Right now, across the United States, black families are teaching the next generation of black youth with intent and care. Black History Month is a time to consciously center and celebrate black empowerment and achievement, as well as the legacy of strength and anti-racism. Now is the time to honor the whole history of black people, rooted in the rites, rituals and intellectual traditions of the entire African diaspora.
Black History Month is over 28 days of memory. From a black perspective, the month is a deep recognition of the incredible beauty, pride, faith and courage of black people despite over 400 years of oppression.
So what does Black History Month mean to teach white youth with intent and care?
For white families, this may seem trickier. Whites who are parents today may not have been raised with a focus on black history, so they may not feel like they know enough or what to do. Some parents may know that it’s important for all of us to celebrate black excellence, but worry that participating in the home is a form of ownership. Others realize that the legacies of racial inequality and white privilege are the reasons why black achievements are so remarkable. Recognizing this can seem complicated, even overwhelming.
So where to start? We want to suggest that you start where you are. Here are 12 ideas for what to do (and a few things to avoid). Why 12 ideas? Because black history deserves your attention all year round, and you can commit to practicing a new idea every month.
Lift lots of black figures
Focus on black children and youth who fought for freedom
Children get excited when they hear about other children. But also, children get so many messages that they have to wait until they are “grown up” to make a difference. This is not true. What a great time to learn more about black youth who have made change while teaching white youth that they can and do too.
Adopt the ‘both / and’
When we celebrate black history, there is a risk of sending a message that what we are celebrating is not also American history. It is important that we make it clear to white children that one of the effects of racism is that not enough of us have learned excellence from black people and that is why we need Black History Month. . It also means that we need to value and talk more about black history all the time; because black history is American history.
Celebrate black joy and black love
But honestly teach wrestling
Choose 12 books by black authors
Get involved in a black-led organization
Ask your children what they are learning in school
American education systems have never provided a full, diverse, and festive account of the contributions of blacks. Parents can get into the habit of asking precisely what children are learning in school. This creates the opportunity to correct, clarify, and expand what they are learning. It might even help you identify a role in supporting your school by providing more comprehensive accounts of our shared racial history.
Focus on the community
Celebrate black leadership in your local community
Not all blacks who excel are famous. There are people who lead courageously where you live. Who are the visionaries, justice workers and black Americans who have helped shape the community you enjoy and live in today? Ask this question with your children. Celebrate the responses. And then, find ways for your family to support these leaders.
Blacks are diverse
Blacks are also women victims of sexism. LGBTQ people are part of the black community. Help white youth develop critical thinking skills by exploring the intersections between identities and justice movements. The Black Lives Matter movement, for example, was started by three black women who were also gay. It is deeply inclusive and consistently recognizes the intersections between racial, gender and environmental justice, the rights of persons with disabilities and more, creating pathways to equity that honor the innate worth and dignity of all black life.
Dismiss the trap of perfectionism! We all have more to learn. It’s easy to get stuck if you think you need to know everything or be able to explain everything perfectly. Just start where you are. In fact, it’s important for white youth to see adults as role models of humility and curiosity. Young people benefit when parents say, “I’m not sure. Let’s find out”; “I never learned this and I am happy to learn it now with you”; and even “I thought I knew but it turns out I was wrong; I’m grateful to have a chance to figure it out differently.” Next thing you know, they will also model such behaviors and teach adults about black history.
White families can celebrate Black History Month in an authentic way. When they do, they contribute to the multiracial invitation to raise a generation of young people capable of honoring black excellence and participating fully in the journey to growing democracy and justice for all.