Too Young To Process Black History?
I remember being young riding around with my pops, listening to songs like “Fight The Power” and “Can’t Truss It”. I remember my mom giving a full explanation on both songs. I remember having to watch “4 Little Girls” , the Spike Lee documentary right after watching The Lion King 2 Simba’s Pride. Add to that list movies like Malcolm X, Glory, Rosewood, Mississippi Burning, Roots, documentaries on Emmitt Till, MLK, Rosa Parks, etc.
We were really young watching all of this. Because of this, my siblings and I had an understanding that growing up black meant having to deal with a lot more than others do. We knew early on that certain behavior just wouldn’t fly from us, strictly because of our skin tone. I believe a big part of why we were made to watch and read about our history in America was to help prepare us for when we were older. Now, as a fairly new parent of a 4 year old boy and another coming in the next month or so, I wonder if the way we were taught was too extreme for the age we were. I ponder this question on the heels of an article involving outraged parents in Virginia. The Glen Allen school district was showing a 4 minute cartoon video to students, broadly explaining the many barriers black folks have to deal with, as well as the importance of affirmative action and things went haywire. The parents of certain students complained that the video promoted “white guilt”, and under this pressure, the superintendent decided to pull the video from all schools within the school district. I have one word to describe this nonsense…
I debated with my brother-in-law about this a couple days ago, and at the time I wasn’t for what he was saying, but after deeper explanation, it made a lot more sense and ultimately became the reason for this blog post. My approach was — We came up seeing all kinds of footage showing lynchings, brutal beatings, fire bombings and just all around general violence towards our people. You’re telling me these kids can’t deal with seeing a 4 minute cartoon? During Black History month?!?
His approach was different, and made a lot of sense as he is an educator and works with students on a regular basis. He felt the video could bring emotions within the school to a new level and could cause a negative reaction between students. Based on this, he believes the video should be viewed at home as opposed to in school. I understood that some kids simply are not mature enough to take in the harsh realities of life in America.
But at the same time, I wondered to myself; What age is the best age to teach kids about their history? I don’t mean the watered down versions often taught in school either. I feel there is a clear disconnect and overall lack of true understanding when it comes down to REAL black history. I remember when I was in elementary, middle and high school, the only thing we focused on learning about was the Civil Rights movement. Excuse me, SPECIFIC parts of the Civil Rights movement. I’m sure most folks around my age would agree that outside of Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King and the occasional mention of Ralph Abernathy or Jesse Jackson, nothing more was mentioned. When a student like myself would mention Malcolm X or the Black Panther Party, the question would be ignored or danced around. It wasn’t until I got older that I realized as long as the message was nonviolence and nonaggression, there was no problem discussing our history. Why is that? I’m guessing that’s what all the fuss as about when kids had to watch that 4 minute cartoon.
Like I said before, my siblings and I were taught in a very in-your-face type of way. There was no reason to sugarcoat things that actually happened in our household. After all, this wasn’t a movie or something. This is our history! The idea of living in some sort of bubble was out of the question for us. With that being said, In hindsight I wish I would of had a choice regarding my age with some of the footage I had to watch. Seeing Emmitt Till’s mutilated body gave me nightmares for a while. But then again, I was around 10 years old. My sons won’t see that type of imagery until they are much older, but they WILL know the story as soon as they can process it, along with others. Because at the end of the day, it is our job to teach OUR history properly. I think that’s all my folks were really trying to do for us at the end of the day.