*disclaimer* I had this blog in the working for many days. It's prompted by one of the many conversations with my children about how valuable education is. We are a mixed family, My husband is from England (yes he is white), my children are African American, and mixed. I am African American. We have some interesting conversations.
*Flashback* I'm sitting in my 5th grade class in elementary school. I'm the smallest kid in the class but I'm quite excited because I made it to a size 1 in shoes. I was an awkward girl. I wanted friends to like me. I tried to fit in but just didn't. It seems like all of my classmates were so much more advanced in the cool factor than I was. I missed more school than most kids because of this silly title the doctors gave me, I was a Chronic Asthmatic. Lucky me. I was an odd duck. I had a best friend who was quite goofy too but she wasn't in my class though. In fact she was in the class right beside mine which was connected by a single door behind me. If I could just move past it, I'd find myself in Mr. Smith's class. Mr. Smith didn't seem as harsh as Mr. Blackwell. *sigh* If the teacher sat us alphabetically I'd end up in the near the front of the class. My last name started with a B. This year it was odd. My 5th grade classroom set up wasn't alphabetical. It couldn't be. I was that small black girl sitting in that one desk without a row, by the small window, in the back of the classroom; that just yelped because she flipped to that huge tarantula on the new unit page in her science book... again. Yeah I was odd and I annoyed Mr. Blackwell.
There was nothing I could do. My life cards were dealt I guess. Mom said he didn't like that I was sick because it messed up his attendance records. I never understood it. I spent most of my 5th grade year in the hospital with a 50/50 chance of.... That's what they would tell my mom after beating on my side and back to get me to cough up that greenish yellow thick stuff, "She's got a 50/50 chance." My lungs were full, I had IV's, breathing treatments, meds and a few times an odd hospital room mate. Was I a victim? Nope, don't you dare pity me. I was breaking out of that place to go to the 5th grade skating party! I did. I love skating. I had been skating since I was a toddler. Whatever motivated me right?
The tarantula incident makes me laugh every time I think about it. I can sympathize with my girls now, they don't like pictures of spiders in their textbooks either. I was embarrassed about that back then. I had plenty of embarrassing moments in that 5th grade class. I remember dreading learning about this particular time period in history. I dreaded that slavery paragraph in our history books like the plague. I was the only black kid in my class. I sat in the back and you know what made it worse? It seemed like kid in that class would turn and look at me or glance back when we read about it. I don't recall Mr. Blackwell's attention to me then. I wanted to sink down in my seat and disappear. I was ashamed that my descendants were lowly slaves. The slaves in the books looked dirty, dark, distorted, and animalistic. My people were captured, sold, brutally beaten, made to work because they were black by their privileged ancestors who stood on the right side of God. Then civil war broke out and it was our fault. The south were the prejudice people because they wanted slaves and the Northern people wanted to free the slaves because they were nice. Lincoln freed the slaves and... Martin Luther King...the end. That's how I remembered it. It was a strange way to grow up but that was life and African American History as I remembered it.
As I got older, I learned more about African American heros, inventors, writers, and political trail blazers. Those that were not afraid, those that fought for my rights, and suffered doing it. Most of them I happened to research about due to my own curiosity to seek out truth, encouragement and positivity in our ancestral records. Teaching African American history can be emotional and sensitive. Humanity is questioned and sometimes left unanswered. What makes a person chain others and sell them off? Why do we only get mad at the "white man" when Africans sold their own people to Portuguese and Spanish people too? What makes a person treat a stranger as though they deserve to suffer? How do you stuff humans into small unsanitary places for weeks upon weeks in a boat? Why was life not cherished? Every February we "celebrate" African American history. Should it be separated in US History? Well what about Native American History, Asian American History, Italian American History, Irish American.... get my point? As I was saying, some people still feel odd when the subject of slavery comes up. My kids feel odd and they are homeschooled. They aren't in a public classroom setting for all the class to turn and stare at them either in pity, disgust, or sorrow. So what makes them feel ashamed? What made me feel ashamed? It was the thought of being the lowest of the low. Seeing them put in chains and stripped down to nothing. Seeing them beaten and treated horribly. I wondered why they didn't stand up to them, you know create a rebellion of some sort. I remember being excited that someone like Nat Turner tried to rise up against them. There were rebellions we just were not taught about them. *sigh*
Were they low? No. Not at all. Their very being was just as important as anyone else! See here's my thought now. I believe God stopped me in my tracks and made me think. Made me realize I've got the responsibility to teach my own children differently. Truth. Some of the people were captured, and sold - by their own people, by our people. Some were criminals It was business. It still is. They had lives before they were taken. They had a culture, and a way of life. All of that lost due to someone's selfish ambition. So you take any person from their livelihood, chain them down, force them to travel in dangerous conditions while depriving them of basic necessities for weeks, force them onto a foreign land, deprive them of everyday items such as personal hygiene items, clean clothes, food and water, sell them, make them work long hours in the sun, and beat them if they don't submit or work hard enough...
Wait, and these are the people we are ashamed of? Ashamed? How dare we! Why?
They did nothing to deserve this. Why feel ashamed of someone who endured all of that? These people were strong in my eyes. They begin to live in their new land under someone else's direction. They endured huge amounts of oppression, yet they lived. They worked. They had families, and made friends. They suffered separation from them at the decisions of their masters. Some went on to be educated and trail blazed which is a huge accomplishment in the face of constant adversity. We have people complaining now that they can't get an education because its "too hard". What?!
No one in my schools taught me to be unashamed. I had to search that out myself. Its a flawed educational system we all know that yet still function in it. So I'm taking the reigns as a homeschooling parent and telling my children, "No, don't you dare be ashamed of slaves, be aware of the heartless ones who abused men, women and children. Those who had no heart and separated families for money, and thinking of slaves as animals. Do not take hate into your heart from this, but be wise. Know who you are. Know that you are valuable, smart, and equal." We should not ever be ashamed of the innocent people who came up out of oppression. Be proud they made it, be proud they continued to live, and made history. Be proud that you have strength from generations ago to endure and go on. Be proud not ashamed, educate yourselves, stand up, be upright and honor your ancestors who fought for you to do so.