Some people are scared of history

Kahlila Bandele

Since childhood, Kahlila Bandele has studied history broadly and has won multiple Black History quiz bowls under the tutelage of her family. As a high school senior, she is currently taking advanced placement history courses including the piloted AP African American Studies course at Baton Rouge Magnet High School. She shares her experience and responds to the validity of history courses in this guest column.

By Kahlila Bandele

Some people are scared of history. Looking back in our collective past, we see generations of our ancestors committing unthinkable acts in order to secure our future.

Individuals, communities, and societies have all perpetuated acts of greed at the expense of others, leading to a cycle of marginalization and trauma that persists today. It’s nightmarish to see oneself reflected in humanity’s worst mistakes. Why not ignore those parts of the story, hide them from children and only talk about the “wins” everyone can celebrate? Occasional moments of tragedy can enhance the story, but ultimately the big picture of history should be uncomplicatedly triumphant, in order to inspire hope for the future. This is the thinking of many who oppose Critical Race Theory and other attempts to diversify history curriculums.

The history curriculums of my youth were informed by this thinking. My first US history class in particular discussed the American Revolution extensively, characterizing the colonists and founding fathers as undeniably impressive and important. Our discussion of Black people (one of two non-White racial groups discussed) began and ended with slavery. Only two lessons discussed the significance of Uncle Tom’s Cabin as abolitionist literature; we talked about Black pain–briefly– from the perspective of a White woman. Other history classes mirrored this pattern, only (very) briefly diverging from the Main Story of America’s development to address the traumatic marginalization of people of color during that time. Generations of indigenous people, Black communities and, later, Asian communities were defined by constant pain. That’s not to say, however, that oppression was discussed extensively; slavery and genocide were watered down considerably. The systemic and generational effects of marginalization went unexamined. Growing up, I knew some things about POC oppression and very little about POC achievement, leading me to believe there was none—or none worth mentioning at least.

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Students of color often feel alienated from history curricula; they see themselves only in the context of marginalization or else don’t hear about their racial/ethnic groups at all. As a result, the Euro-centric–often White Supremacist–version of history is continually promoted and students of color are left with little positive representations to look up to or healthy ways of coping with marginalization. White students are also left ignorant of the contributions of people of color, leaving them blind to the nuances of non-White groups. 

Ultimately, comprehensive history curriculums are needed to help fill the racial gap. Racialized groups need to be discussed frequently, in every time period and context. This shouldn’t be a difficult task considering people of color have existed before the foundation of America and were present throughout its history. Additionally, the nuances of these non-White are worth exploring: culture, language, and artistic achievements should be described alongside marginalization. For example, the achievements of Black and Queer people during the Harlem Rennissance demonstrate the joy and community that exists in spite of oppression. 

History classrooms should be a safe space to process personal experiences in relation to historical events. Acts of marginalization (on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, sexuality, gender, etc.) will inevitably be discussed and may provoke strong emotional responses from students. This can be used to generate productive discussions about contemporary connections to history. When students are discouraged from expressing any emotion including guilt or pain regarding historical events, they’re discouraged from empathizing with other individuals and ultimately neglecting a part of their own self-awareness and emotional development.

Overall, history curriculums should be both holistic and relevant to the lives of all individuals, especially marginalized people). Educators have the unique position to inspire and uplift students while they’re still discovering themselves. When students and teachers are allowed to communicate openly about our education, and blindspots in the curriculum, we create a better environment for learning and growth, inspiring us all to create a more inclusive, equitable future. 

By Kahlila Bandele, Guest columnist

Since childhood, Kahlila Bandele has studied history broadly and has won multiple Black History quiz bowls. As a high school senior, she is currently taking advanced placement history courses including the piloted AP African American Studies course at Baton Rouge Magnet High School.

One Response to “Some people are scared of history”
  1. Efuru says:

    The only way things change is by discussing them and, they do need to change!! Thank you Kahlila for informing us about what is going on in public schools concerning the history of our people. We need young people like you to help lead the way to a more just society for everyone. The truth must be told!

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