By Katelyn McCarthy
In America’s computer screens—er, elementary schools—young students have been spending the month of February learning about African American history. Some have likely written papers and drawn pictures of historical figures like Jesse Owens, Frederick Douglas, and George Washington Carver. Others might be reading the words of Langston Hughes or Martin Luther King, Jr. Still others might listen in rapture to stories about Jackie Robinson, Harriet Tubman, and Rosa Parks. But should this learning be confined to the month of February?
Many different cultures in America have a time set aside for cultural celebrations: St. Patrick’s Day, Mardi Gras, and Cinco de Mayo are such holidays. But that doesn’t mean that the history of the Irish, Acadian, and Mexican Americans ought to be confined to those days. Neither should the study of African American history be confined to Black History Month. Black History Month is a vital time to recognize the importance of African Americans in American history, and their stories should also be taught year round.
American history has been the sum of the people who shaped her into the country she is today. While various cultures will begin their influence in America in earlier or later time periods, and therefore will be studied in different chapters of history books, every culture which has impacted our country has played a role in the building of our great nation and, therefore, in the writing of her history.
To think of American history as ‘European American history’ and to confine African American history (and Latin American and Asian American histories, as well) to separate categories acts against the fundamental principle that we are “one nation, under God, indivisible.” That’s not to say that cultural histories ought not be studied within their own unique context but that they should not solely be studied so.
I think that it would be beneficial for all children, especially those whose cultures are often wrongly distinguished from the idea of a ‘generic’ American culture, to grow up learning that to be an American is not a matter of skin but a matter of belief. To believe in liberty, justice, and equality under the law is to be American, and belief transcends bodily happenstance.
Teaching history in a way that recognizes that all people who make up America have contributed to her is to work towards social harmony, mutual understanding, and a shared national pride. It would be a manner of celebrating cultural histories on the days or months during which we commemorate them and also incorporating them into our understanding of what it means to be an American. It is, recognizing a unity beyond skin, to speak alongside the aforementioned poet, Langston Hughes, and say, “I, too, am America.” In so declaring, we can come to understand that our different cultures are to be celebrated and united so that all of us can join hands as brothers and sisters of one shared land.
Melanie Moyer '22,