The content below is reproduced verbatim from Caitlin O’Kane’s June 19, 2020, story, “Did you learn about Juneteenth in school? Many American history lessons fall short on black history.”
Westenley Alcenat, an assistant professor of History, Urban & American Studies at Fordham University, says black history curriculums in all schools are either “inadequate, inaccurate, or simply non-existent.”
“I went to high school in Minneapolis, actually, exactly in the same areas that were deeply affected by the George Floyd incident,” Alcenat told CBS News. “I can confidently tell you that much of what I know regarding American history within the context of what contributions or roles black people made to it… was not something that I really learned as much about in high school as something I learned in adulthood.”
Alcenat said African American history is often sequestered from the larger narrative of American history. Instead, children at all education levels should be learning about the contributions African Americans made throughout history.
“We are not taught enough about how black men and women put their lives on the line to create what we know today as the multiracial vision of American democracy,” Alcenat said.
“Given the type of society we’re striving towards, the type of society we’d like to be, let’s let our kids know very early on what [African Americans’] particular contributions really are,” he said.
In the wake of nationwide protests against racial injustice, new efforts are being made by many American institutions to advance diversity and equality and address longstanding biases. Companies are suddenly recognizing the need to rebrand products like Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben’s due to their racist imagery, the country band Lady Antebellum changed its name, and NASCAR banned the Confederate flag.
While these changes may be welcome, some believe real progress can only be made if a fuller version of history is taught in schools.
“Without knowledge of history, how do you put together an empathetic, humane response to horrible situations like the George Floyd murder, which we know is a symptom of the larger historical forces of racism in this country?” Alcenat said. “It’s incredibly important that we try to provide a correctness to how it’s all being taught at the moment. Or else we risk not necessarily repeating history, we risk not knowing how to deal with ourselves when these moments of history come upon us.”