More and more, we’re seeing leaders and educators in the Black community take it upon themselves to teach the non-whitewashed Black history that white conservative state lawmakers and education officials have launched a propaganda-reliant war against. They call it “woke.” They call it critical race theory regardless of whether the curriculum makes use of the decades-old academic framework or not. They push and sign legislation banning it without proving or even providing significant evidence of its harm. They call it “indoctrination” while also advocating for ideologically conservative curricula that would demonstrably constitute indoctrination. At the end of the day, they leave it up to Black us to ensure that our communities aren’t only subjected to educational materials that pass through the lens and approval of conservative whiteness.
For example, in Florida—the unofficial capital of states that play “now you see it, now you don’t” with any curriculum that makes white people uncomfortable—hundreds of Black church congregations have begun challenging the state’s new standard for lying about American slavery by teaching their communities what America won’t. Now, teachers in the state of Oklahoma are doing the same.
According to NPR, Kristi Williams, an activist and educational leader in Tulsa, is offering new lessons on Black history meant to counter an anti-CRT law pushed in 2021 by Republican lawmakers restricting what African American history can be taught and how it’s taught.
“We will remember the humanity, glory and suffering of our ancestors, and honor the struggle of our elders.”
These are the words Williams led schoolchildren and parents in reciting at a community center in Tulsa where her educational program took place Saturday. Williams said her program, which launched earlier this year, is helping to teach what teachers are afraid to teach now that white fragility has been prioritized over truth in Oklahoma.
The law has had a chilling effect on teachers who now fear that touching on race and racism in their classrooms could cost them their jobs if a student or parent complains that a lesson made them uncomfortable.
“They’re just staying away from it and not teaching it,” Williams said. “So I had to create a space for families to come in, and teach it.”
She called it Black History Saturdays. It’s one local, grassroots initiative among numerous that have sprung up across the country in places where Republicans have adopted restrictions that make it harder for teachers to discuss race in classrooms.
Williams launched her program – with financial help from the National Geographic Society – out of a resolve not to let Republican politics deny Black children the right to learn honest history about racism and their ancestors’ struggles to overcome it. It’s free for children and adults and meets one Saturday a month.
“We’re reclaiming this,” said Dewayne Dickens, a Tulsa Community College professor who Williams was recruited to teach the high schoolers in her program. Restoring honest race history to the state’s public schools is critical, he said, but the Tulsans showing up for Black History Saturdays are also declaring that “we can teach our children, we can teach ourselves, and we can do it better.”
Educators who have adopted Williams’ program told NPR that even attempts to teach Black students to have pride in themselves were shut down by Oklahoma’s law, because in the minds of white people, “Black excellence” must mean white people are of lesser excellence. (All affirmations matter.)
More from NPR:
Angela Mitchell was a first-grade teacher at a Tulsa school with mostly African American students. Teachers there were deliberate about stressing the concept of “Black excellence” as a way to motivate them.
“But when that bill passed, the first thing they told us was that that had to stop,” Mitchell said. She said her school’s administrators were concerned that a parent or child might complain that by emphasizing Black excellence, teachers were suggesting that Black students were better than others, in violation of the state law prohibiting teaching that any race is superior.
“So yes, all the people at the top had to make the choice that we could not as teachers teach our kids Black excellence,” Mitchell said. “Again, not that one race is superior to another, but simply that you are amazing because of who you are.”
Not that we needed any more evidence that Black people can’t even love our own Blackness without the most dominant and powerful racial group in America feeling discriminated against—but there it is. And that’s why it’s up to us to educate and affirm our own people—as it has always been.
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