Rummaging through keep-sake boxes, looking for memorabilia for an unrelated project, I found this old friend! My little book–just as I had remembered it! I was elated and relieved. I thought I’d left it at my mom’s house with other childhood keep-sakes, which meant that I may never see it again…moms can’t be expected to store everybody’s stuff forever! When I discovered it, in my box, in my garage, I was instantly transported to my childhood. I grinned and sighed. I immediately sat down on the floor and ripped through the book as I had done as a child. I recalled sitting on the hardwood floors of our little ranch style home on Hemingway Street, flipping the pages, studying the faces, reading the content, repeatedly, over and over again, day after day. Confirming and affirming.
I couldn’t articulate it then, but it was if I knew that the absence of Black people in the narrative of American greatness was wrong! I wondered why my teachers were teaching ‘George Washington,’ ‘Benjamin Franklin,’ and ‘Abraham Lincoln,’ year after year and excluding the folks in my little book. Surely, there was enough time to fit in their accomplishments that were significant to our country. I mean, why were we spending so much time on the same three or so white men when there were so many more amazing people to learn about? I remembered sitting in class feeling like my classmates were being robbed of something by not being exposed to Americans beyond these ‘three old white men.’ I remember feeling dread and an urgency, that if my classmates didn’t have the book that I had, then ‘slavery’ would be their only context for Black people. Even as a child, I could see how this was problematic!
I didn’t know this in elementary school, but the conflict between the version of history formally presented through school and the more inclusive version of history I understood through my little book forced me to develop a critical framework for analyzing the standard curriculum. From that point on, I was always asking why Black people were only allowed to be slaves in the story of the United States. Why were Black people excluded from significant contributions in history and literature? As I am writing about this experience, I am only, in this moment, making the connection between the early development of my analytical framework for curriculum and my eventual doctoral degree in Curriculum and Instruction!!! (WOE!)
My little book also makes me think about my white, fifth grade classmate who said that he wished America could go back to a time when Black people were slaves. I felt bad for him. I grieved for his ignorance. This dummy didn’t know that enslaved Africans have never been just slaves in America! They were much more than that temporary station! But even as a child, I knew not to be angry at my ten year old classmate. It was not his fault that our schools had failed him/us by white-washing so much greatness from our lives.
The United States has always reaped the benefits of contributions from various tribes and people groups. And I hope one day soon, our national consciousness and narrative can truly express an appreciation for this. I hope that eventually, we won’t let February be the only time we enrich our children’s/student’s lives with exposure to Black American contributions. But because as a nation, we continue to suffer from being ahistorical, this month, Brownicity will daily feature and celebrate the contributions of a Black American who has not been afforded the same recognition, space and respect as those ‘three old white men.’