I have always had an internal debate when it comes to education as a whole and what we ought to be learning. This conversation arose from my scepticism of what I have been taught in my school years, primarily history.
I remember being fascinated by hearing how so many countries were “discovered” by brave and visionary Europeans (Caucasian). How they sailed to a land west when they actually intended to go east and stumbled upon Indians. It didn’t take long before the natives were murdered and given a piece of their own land while the invaders, oh my bad, the brave explorers took everything else. Or how about that great chapter in history when more of these amazing explorers landed on our shores, set us free from our ignorant ways, raped our mothers while enslaving our daughters and brothers and again give us a piece of what was ours anyway. But I don’t want to delve too deep into the politics of that, what I am actually getting at here is the fact that I never really heard stories of black people, my people, doing something as noteworthy as their Caucasian counterparts.
Eventually we were taught about people like Dr Martin Luther King Jr., Malcom X or even our very own Nelson Mandela – but even then, those sections were a blimp in our notes as compared to the white history I knew. I realised that there was a flaw in our education especially for the black child in the classroom.
It would be a breeze to tell a white child that they can do amazing things with their lives and be whoever they wanted to be simply because they have endless references of their ancestors’ successes in every history book they can get their hands on. The same wouldn’t work for a black child. My references would tell me that I am lucky to be where I am right now because I should have been a slave or dead. My references would tell me that I would have to go through enormous struggle to get to where I want to be, it’s just our legacy. My references would tell me that I would have to fight more than the system that was rigged against my kind, that I would have to fight the mindset that was inherited through oppression, degradation, segregation, an instilling of a low sense of worth and a system that was never created with us in mind. As long as I was black, I was born to fight in some way for what I wanted.
In my own time in between school hours, I would read up further on any books I could find about black accomplishments. To be honest, I was searching through those pages for hope. Hope for myself and hope for others like me. I had to find it. Thank God I did. From carbon filament in light bulbs, to mobile refrigeration, to the wide toothed comb, to laser cataract surgery, to elevators, to traffic lights, to cctv, to peanut butter, to the automatic transmission in cars, to pacemakers, and even something that would birth another passion of mine – video game cartridges. All these things are but a few of the priceless contributions that were made to the world, and they were all made by people who looked like me. Why had I never heard of these people in school? I mean, we get introduced to physics & chemistry by learning about people who made major contributions to the filed, so why hadn’t I heard of Patricia Bath, Norbert Rillieux, Percy Lavon Julian, Mae Jemison or even James West? Why don’t we teach about the likes of Basetsana Kumalo, Vusi Thembekwayo, Patrice Motsepe or Ludwick Marishane?
So how can we expect that young black people should aspire to succeed in all these fields when they’re not told about the ones who did it before them? The legacy of those who had no choice but to make their lives about fighting for us to shine like the stars we are, is at times devastated by education, or lack thereof in the case of the black child. I believe the education system should be fair, as much as we (black kids) had to learn about all the wars and “struggles” of the white man’s rise to fighting for what is “his”, equally let us know about the black pioneers, engineers, doctors, inventors and revolutionaries who changed the world we live in. Let the education,or as I like to see it, the upliftment and en-couragement, of the black child not be a swift paging through of notes, but an opportunity for them to engage, discuss and gain a fair plane view of history as it relates to the now.
As a black woman, I came to the realization that I need to be the black person that can be a part of history for the next generation of black kids – for all the reasons that will hopefully make them dream more and fear less their strength and capabilities. Let the ones after us look back at us and feel like they can do it too. I realised that we do not have to rewrite history as young black people, all I have to do is add to it. Because if they could, so can we. And if we can, so can they.