One of the most popular ways to be noticed as a member of Black conscious community is to be a historian on all things Black. At face value this is critical to realizing Black progress, Black identity, Black unity, and racial pride. However, in light of the hundreds of Master teachers, scholars and lecturers, I’m going to argue that merely knowing history is not enough. Frankly, it hasn’t done much but lead to countless hours of debates that have zero purpose aside from serving as a pissing contest and ego stroking exercise. So much work can be done to secure a future for Black people. It’s incredible how some historical facts can neutralize people to such a degree it has the Black populous in America. The future seems to be discussed in terms of ownership and entrepreneurship on a solely individual level as if it’s going to lead to an eventual revolutionary liberation of Black America. That isn’t a plan and that isn’t the way it works.
For the Black American it is extremely important to know more about the history of our people. From the pyramid builders to the Moors to the slave revolts to the politicians. Being that America doesn’t teach our children anything substantial about Black history it is even more important that parents raise their children to know more about Black history than the customary Civil Rights era rundown.
When you come to realize that you come from brilliant, resilient, and powerful people, there is a pride that you can carry. Strength can be harnessed from knowing historical figures such as:
Mary Jane McLeod Bethune — founded the National Council for Negro Women in 1935
Marian Anderson — a contralto who performed a wide range of music, from opera to spirituals.
John Henrik Clarke — an African-American historian, professor, and a pioneer in the creation of Pan-African and Africana studies
Phillis Wheatley — the first African-American author of a published book of poetry.
The above list of great African American figures does not begin to detail the hundreds of popular and the thousands of unknown African American figures throughout history that made magic from mildew in a country that has done nothing but reap destruction upon the Black population.
If I were to detail a list that included movements, organizations and continental Africans, this would end up being a short book.
I want to stress that knowing your history is extremely important. This message is by no means to suggest that we stop engaging in learning and teaching our history. These lessons have to be taught with purpose and intention, though. Not to make each other feel proud of being Black.
Whenever I see a social media post about how Africans created civilization or how many inventions Black Americans are responsible for, I almost cringe. Not because I think that it is useless knowledge or to belittle the accomplishments of our ancestors. Rather, my entire thought process is, “What the fuck are we gonna do about our future?” There seems to be constant effort to build up Black self-esteem via history and symbolism. Even when it’s a horrible history and/or. Consider documentaries about slavery, or movies about assassinated civil rights leaders and freedom fighters, or the many Black folks who have held positions of power yet yielded none of it to make actual change of the conditions of Black America. We run to consume these films, forgetting that they were taken from us, and, even worse, their dreams and visions have yet to come to pass. We claim these people simply because of their skin tone regardless of their track record or results.
There is a question that has to be addressed. How much history does one need before they focus on the future? I argue that Black America is stuck in the 60’s in terms of activism tactics and political strategies. Hell, I can’t even give us that much credit as we wont even boycott Asian-owned nail shops and beauty stores to make a statement. The most we tend to do is vote and be a part of organizations whose main purpose is to serve EVERYONE while using Black people as the oppression mascots. Couple that with the social media debate culture and you have a people running in place, waiting on their kidnappers to love them while arguing about natural hair, what Black means, and who was in America first.
I want you to think about the history of other races for a moment; from Japanese Interment Camps to the Chinese railroad workers. Most races have dealt with hardships as a people. Many as a direct result of American oppression.
Now think about their presence in America and abroad today. Are they clamoring for political power? Are they begging for a seat at a table? Are they blacklisted from participating in certain segments of society? Do they have a base of operations? Do they have specific industries where their race dominates?
Obviously the overload of history is not the main issue ailing Black culture. Not having a vision or plan for our future generations absolutely is. Looking at the existence of Black Americans, you would be lying to yourself if you leave with a positive outlook on the future. And that is on us at this point. We know enough history to realize that we are in an unsafe environment in America; yet we have no interest in leaving. We know enough history to know that America has no intentions of keeping any of her promises to Black people; yet we refuse to work as a collective to accomplish anything for ourselves as if we need permission or sponsorship from the American government. We can discuss the many successes of Black and African people, albeit token positions of power or brilliant inventions. In reality, our past is what determines our present, both as individuals and as a people. Our present condition as a people is weak and our future looks bleak. Individual success cannot continue to be our main focus. Individualism and elaborate history lessons has not worked.
I am going to leave you with a quote from one of my greatest teachers…
“If our study of Black history is merely an exercise in feeling good about ourselves, then we will die feeling good. We must look at the lessons that history teaches us. We must understand the tremendous value of the study of history for the re-gaining of power. If our education is not about gaining real power, we are being miseducated and mislead and we will die “miseducated and mislead.” — Dr. Amos Wilson