Editorial – Black History Month

Dear Educators,

I’m Saijah Williams! I’m a writer at TeachRock.org and am developing a full Hip Hop curriculum. February is of course Black History Month, which is one of my favorite months. I feel incredibly fortunate to have been raised in a family and in a place where Black history and culture were celebrated all year round.

I was born and raised in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, which has produced famous Black figures such as Shirley Chisholm, Biggie Smalls, and Jay Z, to name a few. It was fairly common to walk around my neighborhood and see murals of Harriet Tubman, Ida B. Wells, Angela Davis, Malcolm X, Nelson Mandela, and Marcus Garvey. The red, Black, and green Pan-African flag was more common than the red, white, and blue American flag on certain streets, and in elementary school our music teacher made us recite “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” the African American national anthem, at the start of every class. My childhood in Bed-Stuy instilled a strong sense of pride in being Black that is still with me.

It wasn’t until I began college that I learned my upbringing in an environment that revolved around Black history and culture wasn’t the norm for everyone. I was shocked to learn of peers who went to some of the top high schools in the nation and never learned of Fred Hampton, Assata Shakur, Fannie Lou Hamer or Marsha P. Johnson, but of course knew (white washed versions) of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks. I was seriously confused at how this could be.

While there are many reasons for the lack of knowledge about Black history, the one that troubles me most is hearing how the topic makes some educators, especially white educators, uncomfortable. Some express concerns about how to address the “N word,” and the fear of making classroom discussions political when bringing up racism. Quite honestly, I understand these concerns, but I can’t sympathize. These issues are unfortunately a part of American history, and continue to persist today.  By not talking about them as educators we are doing a disservice to all students–especially Black students.

By surrendering to discomfort, it paves the way for erasure and ignorance. This was the reality for several of my friends, who frequently discuss what they wish their educators, who were mostly white, could have done differently. They wished their teachers covered Civil Rights figures other than Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks, or at least had provided a broader contextualization to demonstrate that Dr. King stood for more than peace and love and Rosa Parks was a secretary for the NAACP, and not just a woman who refused to give up her seat. My friends expressed disappointment that their teachers often covered no Black history between the late 1960s and the election of Barack Obama, which is a shame.

So how do we address this?

The first step is educating oneself–and that means all year round. February shouldn’t be the only month that features Black history.

The past shouldn’t only be discussed when there’s so much going on today. The organization and movement Black Lives Matter is everywhere. Lynching was just made a federal crime on December 19, 2018 in spite of anti lynching efforts dating back to the 1880s. The life expectancy of trans women of color is only 35. Black people are still becoming the first to do something such as become president. Black kids are dying by suicide because of racism in schools. There’s so much to learn, reflect on, address, dismantle, and of course, to celebrate.

I encourage you to make this Black History Month a motivation to do better in general, and not just for 28 days. There’s so much work to be done, and that work has to take place in educational spaces, in spite of whatever discomfort it may create.

Here are some music, film, and reading suggestions that work in and out of the classroom. I hope you learn something new, pass it on, and actively work to support Black people.

Sincerely,
Saijah Williams

Music

Solange, A Seat at the Table (2016)
Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly (2015) and Damn (2017)
Noname, Telefone (2016) and Room 25 (2018)
Blood Orange, Negro Swan (2018)
A Tribe Called Quest, We Got it From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service (2016)
Jamila Woods, Heavn (2016)
Janelle Monae, Dirty Computer (2018)
Jay Z, 4:44 (2017)

Reading (Names in bold are authors whose entire body of work I encourage exploring):

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
James Baldwin
Hunger by Roxane Gay
How We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective, edited by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor
Shadow and Sunshine by Eliza Shuggs
Don’t Call us Dead by Danez Smith
Nzotake Shange
There are More Beautiful Things than Beyoncé by Morgan Parker
Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler
When They Call You a Terrorist by Patrisse Cullors
Becoming by Michelle Obama
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehesi Coates
Maya Angelou
Audre Lorde
June Jordan
Jamaica Kincaid
Angela Y. Davis

Film, TV, etc.

Do the Right Thing (1989)
Eve’s Bayou (1997)
Hidden Figures (2016)
Paris is Burning (1990)
Dope (2015)
13th (2016)
Kiki (2016)
Daughters of the Dust (1991)
Moonlight (2015)
Get Out (2016)
What Happened Miss Simone? (2015)
Pariah (2011)
Black Panther (2018)
A Wrinkle in Time (2018)
Lemonade (2016)
Dear White People (2014) (Film)Black-ish (Episodes: “Juneteenth” and “Black Like Us”)
Random Acts of Flyness
Atlanta
Dear White People (Netflix series)
Beyoncé’s Coachella Performance (2018)
Black-ish (Episodes: “Juneteenth” and “Black Like Us”)
Random Acts of Flyness
Atlanta
Dear White People (Netflix series)
Beyoncé’s Coachella Performance (2018)

Art

Howardena Pindell “Free White and 21” (1980)
Faith Ringgold
Kara Walker
Kerry James Marshall
Archibald Motley Jr.
Emory Douglas
Adrian Piper
Kehinde Wiley
Carrie Mae Weems
Gordon Parks
Deana Lawson
Augusta Savage “The Harp” (1939)
Elizabeth Catlett

Podcasts

Code Switch
Still Processing
Friends Like Us
Hoodrat to Headwrap

People to follow on social media

Vilisa Thompson
Mari Copeny
Marley Dias
Bree Newsome
Marc Lamont Hill
Ericka Hart
Staceyann Chin
Ava Duvernay
Rachel Cargle
Brittany Packnett