Hasan Kwame Jeffries, Ph.D., Associate Professor of History at The Ohio State University, said “To achieve the noble aims of the nation’s architects, we the people have to eliminate racial injustice in the present. But we cannot do that until we come to terms with racial injustice in our past, beginning with slavery.”4
“Slavery’s long reach continues into the present day. The persistent and wide socioeconomic and legal disparities that African Americans face today and the backlash that seems to follow every advancement trace their roots to slavery and its aftermath. The scars of slavery and its legacy are seen in our system of mass incarceration, in police violence against black people, and in our easy acceptance of poverty and poor educational opportunities for people of color. Learning about slavery is essential if we are ever to bridge the racial differences that continue to divide our nation.”4
It is time for the void created by not truthfully and thoroughly teaching about slavery and the full spectrum of Black history to be filled with the robust curriculum that our children deserve. If we are ever going to heal this nation, we must start by telling children the truth and teaching them the truth about America’s original sin, white supremacy and systemic racism.
Young people from all ethnic groups and backgrounds are currently in the streets, during a pandemic, protesting every day, in every state for racial justice. They have demonstrated the capacity to understand and deal with the complexities of racism. These brave young people have been joined by many white allies, who also have demonstrated a capacity to understand and deal with the complexities of racism. So it is past time for the white adults who control the educational system in America to summon the courage and rise to this occasion.
It is way past time for those in control of education in this country to address this systemic failure and provide our students with a 21st-century Black history education. First, they can start by taking the responsibility to accurately educate themselves. Second, they can commit to teaching all children the real and complete story of America’s founding and continued failure to extend to Black people the equality and unalienable rights promised in the Declaration of Independence. They can teach students about the systemic racism that is endemic to this country, in context, and provide them with the appropriate tools to process the information.
It is way past time to develop national PreK-12 Black history standards that mandate all schools teach the truth, consistently and thoroughly, year-round, across all 50 states.
It is way past time to bring the reprehensible practice of writing history textbook content to accommodate political ideology and willful ignorance to an end. Either you believe in accurately educating children or you condone lying to them.
The argument we are making is that centuries of lying to students has not served this country well. The fact that we are still debating the merits of the Confederacy, in this country, in the year 2020, clearly illustrates the intellectual catastrophe that has been caused by whitewashing history and avoiding our past. This moment demands—and our students deserve—comprehensive Black history standards and curriculum that will allow us to reach a common level of understanding of the past so we can start to heal and move forward.
Finally, it is our belief that stories that reflect the history of African descendants of the enslaved, given the unique complexities of the subject matter, are best told from a Black perspective. Most recently, this was demonstrated by the revelatory nature of the narrative in the critically acclaimed The 1619 Project, published in 2019 in The New York Times Magazine. Black educators and historians must write the new standards and develop the new curriculum and, most importantly, must be hired to teach our history.