Challenging Narratives: Black History Month Contemplations

Written by Tommy Ferguson
SSCH Education Coordinator

As we celebrate Black History Month 2024 and celebrate and look at all the accomplishments of those who have come before us, I think about how everything I do and how I view the world has been shaped through my Blackness.

I remember stories my mom would tell of the hardships and struggles of growing up black in Alabama during segregation. I remember all the hope and dreams she had for her me and my brothers, and  her always reminding us how important it was to know where we have come from to provide direction to where we want to go.  In other words. History is important and I must never forget my history–our history. 

Keeping that in mind, I think it is important to look at that history in the context of where we are as a nation.  Former President Barak Obama said, “We are an American family, and we will rise or fall together, as one nation and as one people.”  The problem is we refuse to believe we are one people. Often, we look for ways to only relate to people who look like us, think like us and even vote like us.

We are only a few years past the Black Lives Matter movement and George Floyd’s murder where it looked as if we were really going to begin to look at race and racism in our county.  Instead, many states have attempted to limit what history can be taught either by banning books or by creating legislation.

According to a June 2023 article from Education Week, their data indicated that since 2021, at least 44 states have introduced bills or made other moves to restrict teaching critical race theory or limit how teachers can discuss race.

During the 2021 and 2022 Ohio legislative sessions, there were attempts made in the Ohio House to create Bills that would have prohibited discussion of certain topics related to race and ban “any textbook, instructional material, or academic curriculum that promotes any divisive or inherently racist concept”   The good news is, so far, these legislative attempts have failed.

Discussing race and racism have always been difficult.  This past summer, Florida Governor and former 2024 Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis, attempted to defend Florida’s new school curriculum which teaches “slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.”   Even more recently, GOP Presidential candidate Nikki Haley was asked in a television interview if she thinks the GOP is a “racist party.” Haley answered, “No. We’re not a racist country, we’ve never been a racist country.” This is the same candidate who could not directly say when asked What was the cause of the United States civil war was fought because of slavery.

You can ban books, create legislation, and even pretend events have not happened. That does not change what we all know, Africans were enslaved, bought to this country in chains and the descendants of those Africans are still seeking social and economic justice in a country that often has tried to pretend “WE HAVE ALREADY OVERCAME.”

Czech and French novelist Milam Kundera once wrote “The first step in liquidating a people is to erase its memory. Destroy its books, its culture, its history. Then have somebody write new books, manufacture a new culture, invent a new history. Before long that nation will begin to forget what it is and what it was… The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.” My charge and challenge to each of you is to never forget, because celebrating Black History is a celebration of all History.  

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