Let’s talk about how you should teach slavery
S. Khalilah Brann | 2/15/2018, 12:22 p.m.
I really tried to stay away from this story of the Bronx teacher stepping on the backs of Black students during a lesson on slavery. I was determined to celebrate Black History Month by not engaging in the racist, anti-Blackness practices that I knew would show up because it always shows up, most predominantly during February.
Even though I was outraged, I wanted to stay in my celebratory cocoon for all 28 days of February.
But after being bombarded with messages and requests for comment, I finally read through the story.
So how are we supposed to teach our students about slavery?
When we look at the timeline of history, slavery is a moment in time. To be African-American might have started when enslaved Africans were brought to this country, but to be African is to be the originator of the human species. And one has to ask, why is our public school system determined to start the history of African-Americans at the shore of Jamestown?
I was a history teacher for a decade in the NYC public school system. I taught global and American history and had to teach about chattel slavery every single year. However, I started out every September by watching the film, “The Real Eve.” For me, I knew how important it was to let students know that they were not descendants of slaves, but rather the originator of man. Therefore, every September began with our genesis as a people, as the mother of the human race.
Because I learned very early on in my career that students hate history. They bemoaned how boring and unrelatable it was/is.
Translation: The way history is/has been taught for me as a student of color makes me feel inferior or invisible and therefore I avoid dealing with it at all costs.
The proper way to teach slavery is to start with Africa as the cradle of all civilization, to talk about the way Africans populated the world, built kingdoms, invented tools and technology, communed with nature, worshipped gods and goddesses, and taught Europeans everything from maintaining proper hygiene to cultivating the land to learning about the arts and sciences at Timbuktu.
Talk about how Africans were in the Americas 200 years before Columbus. Teach about the philosophers, queens, kings and warriors. Discuss the customs, the trade routes, the family, community and tribe structure.
Then when you finally get to slavery, talk about what Africans experienced during the Maafa (Middle Passage) alongside talking about the evils perpetrated by white people, how they used God as a means to create hell on Earth. Talk about their greed, the way they destroyed everything they touched. Talk about those white people who looked on with indifference.
Ask questions, such as how did it feel to be enslaved, and how does it feel to be the descendants of enslavers as a white person? Teach about the righteousness and constant occurrences of slave rebellions and revolts. Show that Black people had self-efficacy and were not idly waiting and hoping for white people to realize the error in their ways. Provide examples of Blacks building thriving towns and cities such as Rosewood and Tulsa, Seneca Village and Weeksville before white people came in and destroyed these areas.