It is so important for all children to learn about black history. Non-black children need to develop empathy and understanding of why we celebrate it to ensure they can grow up to have the drive and skills to dismantle structural racism and black children deserve to learn about their own rich history, cultures, traditions and achievements and to see themselves centred in a narrative. A young black girl recently told me that if children did not see people like themselves doing amazing things, they would grow up to think they didn’t deserve to do it and not even try.
Every year, I start the Black History Month celebrations in my classroom pretty much the same way. I strip the boys of their privileges, make them work harder and blame them for not succeeding. I punish them disproportionately and reward the girls with promises of free chocolate, extra playtime and easy work and remind them the whole time that they have not worked for it or earned it. What usually descends into an argument between boys and girls and a short discussion on racism, today, turned into an hour long discussion about white guilt, structural racism, media representation, sharing of resources, civil unrest, Black Lives Matter, political protest, democracy and islamophobic fear-mongering by people in power (ahem). Children desperately want to talk about these issues so listen and respond. Be honest and make sure they know that they can change the way things are and that have the power within them to break the cycle.
Every morning for the rest of the month, my class will be reading about an important figure from black history and contemporaneity and discussing what they’ve learned. Today, we started with Maya Angelou from Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison. This book is a favourite in my classroom and the children love to read it and learn about everyone from Angela Davis to Shirley Bassey!