Black history is the undeniable history of this country—its people, actions, triumphs, and atrocities. Yet, Black history is deemed “controversial” by people like Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, institutions like the College Board that attempt to water down curricula, and those who press for outright bans on teaching about the contributions and experiences of African Americans in public schools. A battle is raging right now against terms like “intersectional” and “systemic marginalization.” Meanwhile, the freedom to learn, the future of education, and the brilliance of our children are caught in the crosshairs.
The context of historical events, and things many of us have directly experienced, are being called concepts too complex or challenging for high school students to appreciate.
First, this is an obvious smokescreen. But to these critics, the response should be clear: How can the lived and daily experiences of millions of people be “too controversial” to teach in school? The answer: They can’t, and it’s our moral duty to ensure our children understand that.
Attempts to ban history are inherently malicious
When I say Black history is American history, I know it’s true, you know it’s true, and the people who think Black history shouldn’t be taught in schools know it’s true. That’s why they want it banned. Hiding our history is an attempt to rob us of our historic voice, erase our contributions, and make our justified outrage look unreasonable.
The attacks are also designed to further divide us as a nation. When Black history is taught prominently in schools, students learn to see Blackness and Americanness as one and the same. That’s precisely what opponents don’t want.
If you’re banning history, you’re on the wrong side of it
Throughout all of world history, the people attempting to limit, rewrite, or ban history have had one thing in common: They were the bad guys. We’ve seen the tactic used to oppress any number of groups around the globe, the most obvious of which was Nazi Germany banning and burning books about everything from Judaism to human sexuality. With such abundant historical evidence that banning the teaching of history is morally abhorrent, it’s even more shocking that we’re still having to defend against it today.
Attacks on education are attacks on the past, present, and future
History deserves to be taught authentically, even when that history is unpleasant. We owe it to the people who got us to this point to portray their lives and their lessons correctly. When we deny any student the truth, we hinder their ability to grow into empathetic adults who will continue driving society forward. We are shooting ourselves in both feet if we think society can progress without an honest view of history as a guiding light. For people who want to ban Black history, denialism and regression are the whole point.
Those who oppose Black history are destined to fail
Labeling a topic as “controversial” won’t make it go away, nor will removing it from school curricula, especially in a day and age when kids can access virtually unlimited information with a swipe of their fingers.
We will fight back against the banning of Black history, just as we’ve done every time our lived experiences have been disregarded and called “controversial” or worse. And we will win, because the truth cannot be silenced.
Black history is at the heart of America’s origins, how it has endured, and how it will survive future challenges. Instead of trying to ban it, the people who consider it so controversial should try actually reading it. They might learn something. Svante Myrick is president of People For the American Way. Previously, he served as executive director of People For and led campaigns focused on transforming public safety, racial equity, voting rights, and empowering young elected officials. Myrick garnered national attention as the youngest-ever mayor in New York State history.