Who should be in the African American History Museum and who shouldn’t?

“The white man ain’t the devil I promise, you want to see the devil, take a look at Clarence Thomas…….”

My second piece for Black History Month 2019 may emotionally ‘trigger’ some people, but once again, it’s a question worth asking and it falls under my principles of “Creative” and “Critical” thought. If you have a reaction, please respectfully leave a comment below and share your thoughts after you’ve read this piece. I got the idea to write this blog post shortly after my piece entitled, Whose job is it to teach Black History? The seeds for it were sewn one to two years ago though, shortly after the Smithsonian’s new National Museum of African American History and Culture was opened in Washington, DC.

I was perusing social media one day, Twitter perhaps, when a group discussed whether figures like Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas should have a place in the new museum. Dr. Ben Carson’s name may have come up too. It was an excellent and thought-provoking question. I can’t recall if anyone in that discussion felt that Justice Thomas deserved a place in the museum, but I can tell you that most people vehemently felt that he didn’t. I chose to simply be a ‘fly on the wall’ – like someone slipping into a college seminar, standing in the back momentarily and then stepping out after getting the gist of the discussion. The consensus in this group gave a fascinating insight into what being ‘black’ means in the United States in 2019.

Who should be in the National Museum of African American History and Culture and who shouldn’t? That depends on how complete you want history to be. What’s incredibly clear in 2019 is that while we as black people may be seen as one homogenous group by other races and ethnicities, we clearly aren’t. How do we differ? Well just pick the way that you want to slice us up.

Starting with politics, there are liberal blacks, conservative blacks, and independent blacks. There are black people who believe in Jesus Christ and who regularly attend some form of church, and there are black people who believe in Allah and worship at mosques. There are Black Jews and Hebrew Israelites. There are also atheists.

In terms of social class, there are ‘Old Guard’ upper-class black people. There are also middle- and lower-class black people. All three groups have distinct values and opinions of the other classes. There are numerous books just on class; two that come to mind are Our Kind of People, by Lawrence Otis Graham, and Code of The Streets, by Elijah Anderson.

You have ‘bougie’ black people, and ‘street’ black people. There are other black people don’t fall into either extreme, but instead lay somewhere in the middle. In the black ‘zeitgeist’, many of us, myself included, consider ourselves to be ‘other’.

Back to my original question, who should and shouldn’t be in the new African American History Museum? Of the many distinctions in the previous paragraph, the most polarizing may be that of liberal and conservative. Since the Civil Rights Era, the Democratic party has in large part been the party for black people. Right now, we’re seeing a bit of a shift in the landscape, but traditionally that’s how it’s been since I’ve been alive.

Likewise, the Republican party has been the party of racists who are perceived to not care anything about black people. We’re slowly seeing a shift there as well. In any case, any black person who has associated with the Republican party has been seen as being against the race and something ‘other’ than black.

Regarding the two figures I mentioned earlier in this piece, President George H.W. Bush’s filling of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall’s seat with Clarence Thomas was a seen as a blatant slap in the face not only on Justice Marshall’s legacy, but also towards black people in general. Dr. Ben Carson’s participation in the Trump administration has all but erased his brilliant career as a neurosurgeon, and his miraculous emergence from poverty in inner-city Detroit – to liberal black people that is.

I’ve only visited the new African American History Museum once since it’s opening, and I only got halfway through it. If you plan on going, I’d recommend planning to make multiple trips. Both Justice Thomas and Dr. Carson are in there which I think is the right thing to do. To not have them in there is to give an incomplete historical account. But that’s just me, and I don’t believe we should all think the same way as described in my piece about ‘Cooning’.

Your opinion about whether they and others like them should be in there will depend on whether you still consider them to be a part of the black race. That leads to the question of whether a person’s political affiliation and core beliefs dictates their level of blackness. I personally don’t think it does, but I’m just one person, and as of now, I’m not making decisions about whose history gets told in that museum.

The opening quote for this piece is a lyric from one hip hop artist KRS-One’s tracks. I think it’s from his self-titled album, or maybe “Return of the Boom-Bap”. I opened my last black history last piece with a rap lyric and decided to do it again. As mentioned in that piece, while our parents thought it was just noise, hip hop/rap music in the 1980s and 90s had many, many social and political messages. I personally learned a lot of black history from some of the artists.

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog post. If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy:

Are you Cooning? Thoughts on Black America’s new favorite racial slur, critical thought, and groupthink
A Black History Month reflection on Percy Julian
A Black History Month interview with Dr. Vernon Morris part one
A Black History Month look at West Indian Archie
A review of Marvel’s Black Panther
A review of Hidden Figures
A review of All Eyez On Me

If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and/or leave a comment. Please visit my YouTube channel entitled, Big Discussions76. To receive all the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right-hand column in this post and throughout the site, or add my RSS feed to your feedreader. You can follow me on the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page, and Twitter at @BWArePowerful. Lastly, you can follow me on Instagram at @anwaryusef76. While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

Whose job is it to teach Black History?

“Marcus Garvey had the idea back in the day, doing for self, keeping the way……..”

One of the principles of my blog is Creative Thought and a key focus is Education. I’ve been thinking about this topic for a while now, and with Black History Month here, the time has come to put pen to paper, as they say. It’s a sensitive topic, and it may upset some readers, but I think that it’s a conversation worth having and a question worth asking. If you disagree with me here, that’s okay and it’s actually a good thing. Please leave a respectful comment below this piece. With that out of the way, let’s jump in.

Whose job is it to teach Black History? One of my most vivid memories of high school is my mother, and I believe other black parents, writing a letter to the Principal of my high school about a Black History Month program which he may have cancelled during my brother’s senior year. Around that time, and probably since, there was the sentiment that there needed to be more black history taught in the United States’ schools.

I always pondered this myself, and I wondered if this job should fall to our schools which in some instances are very, very diverse. My thoughts always settled on time and practicality. While the descendants of African slaves (my ancestors) were critical in the inception and then the construction of the United States, is there enough time during an eight to nine-month school year to cover every aspect of African American history? After all, the United States is now comprised of several races, ethnic groups and cultures.

As I’m getting older, I’m becoming more of a Marcus Garvey-type in that I believe that we as black people can and should do for ourselves as much as possible, and not look to other groups as much. Thus we should be responsible for passing down our own history, or at least clarifying, correcting, and supplementing what’s taught in the schools. In addition to the practicality of time described above, I have two other reasons.

One is that other races and ethnic groups seem to take the passing on of their culture and history into their own hands. As discussed in my second vlogcast on my new Big Discussions YouTube channel, when I was postdoctoral scientist at the Wadsworth Center in Albany, NY, I was in a lab that was 95% Chinese. Likewise, my advisor and his wife were from mainland China, and their two children were being raised as first generation United States citizens. In casual talk my advisor’s wife shared with me that both of their children attended a Chinese school on the weekends.

That meant that they wanted their children to learn the intricacies of their culture and history above and beyond what they were learning in their respective school systems. Other groups seem to do the same thing: Jewish people, Arabic people, etc. I’ve observed that Arabic communities continue to retain their customs from countries like Pakistan, for example, even while their children are born here in the United States and are ‘westernized’.

This does of course bring to light the paradox that we African Americans face in that we don’t have a culture besides that which we were born into here in the United States. Some of us argue to this day that the United States isn’t our true home. Others feel that using the qualifier ‘African’ in front of American is an insult for us, as we have every right to be here. White Americans are also seldom referred to as ‘Euro’ Americans.

My final reason for saying that we’re responsible for our own history is accuracy. After all, who would know our history better than us? Just like in the media, I think that he or she who controls the historical narratives, controls perceptions, personal identities, self-esteem, etc. Images matter and this is why the movie Hidden Figures was big deal for example. As a black scientist myself, I’m very passionate about shinning the light on our historic black scientists such as Percy Julian, and astronauts Dr. Ronald E. McNair and Lieutenant Colonel Michael P. Anderson.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is one of the figures who is most synonymous with Black History Month. He is lionized and even romanticized these days and as we know, it wasn’t always that way. While we know that he was the figurehead of the Civil Rights Movement and that he opposed white racist elements in the south, what isn’t discussed is how he was perceived by other black people of his time in an open and transparent way.

A black elder from the “Baby Boomer” generation who grew up in the south, once shared with me that Dr. King had numerous black detractors as well, and there were in fact other black people who wanted to take his life. I was surprised to hear this revelation, as I’d never heard about it before. The same was true of Dr. King’s extramarital affairs which Dr. Michael Eric Dyson discussed in one of his books about Dr. King.

The point here is not to besmudge the great Dr. King, but instead to emphasize the importance of a balanced historical perspective – telling both the good and the bad. I suspect that generations from now, people will be unaware of Reverend Jesse Jackson’s disparaging comments about President Barrack Obama leading up to his historic election in 2008, and that they’ll only remember the picturesque scene of Reverend Jackson crying at Grant Park on election night 2017 shortly after Senator John McCain conceded.

I’m going to close by extending this world history. In my “Global Studies” courses back at Hutch-Tech High School in Buffalo, NY, I didn’t learn anything about “The Moors” – explorers and tradesmen from Africa who occupied Spain in the early 700s. I first heard about them from a friend from Buffalo who I’ll call “Kenny”, who was and is very, very passionate about African world history. We as African Americans probably could and should know more about mainland Africa beyond what we learn in class and see on the news and in the media – the good, the bad and the ugly.

When I look back at my youth, one woman comes to mind in terms of actively spreading black history beyond the jurisdiction of our schools. Back in my home city of Buffalo, NY, Ms. Eva Doyle was actually my very first science teacher in the second grade I believe. As I got older though I saw that she was very active and passionate about the teaching and spreading of black history. She became a fixture in our local black newspapers and in the community in general and continues her work today, setting an example for all of us.

These are just some of my thoughts on Black History Month, and I hope that I haven’t upset anyone. In a way it’s funny that it’s the shortest month of the year, but at the same time it’s something that we as black people should be learning throughout the year. In today’s digital age, we’re very fortunate that vast amounts of information are available online to us via a simple Google searches and via video platforms like YouTube. It wasn’t like this years ago.

The quote at the beginning of this piece is a lyric from the hip hop track “Black Star Line” by a group called “Brand Nubian” I listened to when I was a teen. It was from one of “Lord Jamar’s” verses. This track was based on Marcus Garvey. Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s as opposed to modern times, hip hop and rap music had educational, social and political messages, and I learned quite a bit of black history from it. The visual at the beginning of this piece is from the 36th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday Celebration hosted by the Washington Inter-Alumni Council of the United Negro College Fund., which is regularly supported by my Johnson C. Smith University Washington DC Alumni Chapter.

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog post. If you enjoyed this one, you might also enjoy:

Are you Cooning? Thoughts on Black America’s new favorite racial slur, critical thought, and groupthink
A Black History Month reflection on Percy Julian
A Black History Month interview with Dr. Vernon Morris part one
A Black History Month look at West Indian Archie
A review of Marvel’s Black Panther
A review of Hidden Figures
A review of All Eyez On Me

If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and/or leave a comment. I’ve recently started a YouTube channel, so please visit me at Big Discussions76. To receive all the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right-hand column in this post and throughout the site, or add my RSS feed to your feedreader. You can follow me on the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page, and Twitter at @BWArePowerful. Lastly, you can follow me on Instagram at @anwaryusef76. While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.