What does Black History mean to you? For some of us, Black History is only important in the month of February; for others of us, it is recognized all year round. It’s who we are.
When I was in grade school, I remember Black History Month, for the most part, meant learning about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Harriet Tubman, or maybe even Nelson Mandela. Whereas, at home, in addition to the aforementioned, it also meant learning about the more-often-than-not unsung heroes like Mary Ann Shadd, the Maroons, Mansa Musa, the Queen of Sheba, and a long roster of Black inventors, among many others. The list was endless.
This week, however, a teacher at Archbishop Denis O’Connor Catholic High, a Greater Toronto Area (GTA) school, decided to forgo the usual Black-History-Month-go-tos and opted to wear a do-rag (a nylon headscarf) in his commemoration of Black History Month (click here for the story). The typically uniformed school allowed students to wear do-rags for their February dress-down day in honour of Black History Month, so the teacher donned a do-rag of his own “to [support his] coloured friends”.
Apparently, it was a joke.
While it is commendable for educators and educational institutions to actually make the effort to acknowledge Black History Month—and while many members of the Black community would like to see more variety in what is taught in schools about Black History—it is inappropriate for such efforts to be based in the mimicry of Black culture. (The minstrel show is really starting to get old now.)
Black History Month is a time to celebrate the accomplishments of African peoples and people of African descent, and to recognize our contributions to the world at large, not a time to mock our experiences.
According to one student, the do-rag idea was a suggestion made by a student on the Black History committee. Even if that’s the case, it’s troubling to know that wearing a do-rag is what Black students think our history represents—and it’s even more concerning that the school just went along with it. It is clear that despite today’s Black renaissance of sorts, our youth are still not getting the history lessons they need to learn who they really are. We, adults, have to do more to change this: the lessons must start at home.
As for the non-Black educators out there who would sincerely like to make Black history relevant and meaningful to students, please treat our history in the same way you would your own—with true reverence and acknowledgment. Do the research. Do a Google search on “Black History” or “Black History Month ideas”. Go to the library. Or better yet, if you don’t know, ask somebody. Ask the Black teachers. Ask the Black parents. Visit a Black bookstore (if you’re in the GTA, check out A Different Booklist or Knowledge Bookstore). But whatever you do, please don’t use your “celebration” of Black history as an opportunity to denigrate us. Save your caricatures for art class.
Here are some Canadian Black History Resources, as a start:
Here are some U.S.-based Black History Resources.:
What do you think about Black History (Month)? Is it important to you? Please share in the comments.