The Education Race Man On Black History Month 2011 (Exhibit V)

Jose Vilson Education, Jose, Race

Glory, by Rory Amor

Normally, I don’t start posts like this, but imagine my annoyance at another misinformed message regarding Black History Month, this time from an unlikely source. Not sure who first posted it, but in the video, Morgan Freeman asserts two points:

  1. Black history is American history, so we shouldn’t relegate the history to a month. To an extent, it’s true, but then …
  2. The best way to get rid of racism is to stop talking about it. Just refer to others as their names and that’s all there is to it.

I love Morgan Freeman, but I hope that doesn’t soften my critique of his position about the influence of race in our country, and from my point of view, the way we school (and educate) children of color. First, Carter G. Woodson first created Negro History Week to ensure that people didn’t forget that Black history was a part of the American story. As with most stories, we also know that the victor of the wars gets to tell his story. Thus, what we’re seeing now is a watered-down version of the history I’m sure he envisioned. He is the author of one of the quintessential Black books in American history, The Mis-Education of the Negro, must-read material. It’s a book that’s relevant because he speaks about how African-Americans (and others in the African diaspora) needn’t be told to walk through the metaphorical back door after seeing generations of ancestors do it; after a while, they just do it as a force of habit, never realizing that their masters walk through the front door just fine. This is their education; there must be one.


In the periphery around Black History Month lies how we address social studies and becoming a well-informed citizen. I speak on this often, but I truly believe present and future curricula should root its foundations in social studies and science, not math and English. Because they’re harder to assess and more complex, I see ways for children to ask the right questions about how society functions and the balance between the human politic and human nature. Yes, Black history is American history, same with the other “races.” Yet, in the context of our current education system, we’re dumb lucky (and blessed with  centuries of struggle) that enough teachers believe studying Blacks in this country makes sense. Even if it’s just MLK and Rosa Parks.

So, what do we do about Black history? Let’s discuss it in the present. I find cogent examples of the way race plays into our culture daily, but because we’re not using names as per Freeman’s suggestions, we don’t see racism, do we? How about Dan Brown and Stephen Lazar both shedding light of the racial make-up of the typical Teach for America recruit at the recent Education Writers Association panels, and jointly, Diane Ravitch reminding people how it’s always the most underprivileged kids that get the most inexperienced and unproven teachers? How about Dick Vitale saying that the LeBron-Wade-Bosh-Melo-free-agent-dujour mess is like “the inmates running the asylum,” ignoring the racial undertones of young Black and Latino men as inmates, and him making millions off of mostly unpaid Black athletes?

Also note the systematic nature of all these pieces.

How about NYC testing out pre-kindergarten classes where mostly Black and Latino kids “learning” by running around and making as much noise as they want to, 60 per class with teachers on the walls looking onwards? Or how about stuffing as many “small schools” as possible into a building not meant to organizationally sustain such a model? How about closing 1/2 the schools in the 22nd most populated school district by 2014, the same year the Common Core Standards are supposed to go into effect? Can you imagine the perturbed feeling some of us had seeing Beyonce in blackface for a magazine in France, when every time she’s put in an ad or TV show here in the US, she’s Photoshopped to lighter gradients?

A few years back, The NewBlackMan (Mark Anthony Neal) discussed Denzel Washington’s comfort with the role of “race man,” a disposition of the role model who just happens to be part of any race other than the dominant one. Denzel particularly excels at this with critical and popular acclaim, receiving positive ratings from all audiences. He can tow the balance between the racially charged themes and the mainstream topics. It’s almost as if he’s implicitly doing his part to spread the idea of “Black history” across the entire year. Maybe that’s the approach people like me need to take.

Because this country is not at a point where someone like me doesn’t have to mention race wherever I go, but occasionally, it’s nice to know that, if I haven’t gotten to it explicitly yet, someone else can. Even when they don’t have to.

Jose, who’s enjoying his vacation from working all day by … working all day.