As taught in mainstream culture, American history propagates this nation that America is the womb of freedom, justice, and liberty. There are American creation myths, as exemplified by those surrounding the “Founding Fathers.” There are founding documents as revered as biblical texts for their promise of “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
That is why the argument that black history is American history is naïve to the point of insipidity. For most of this nation’s history, blacks were not Americans. First we were owned, and then we were barred from exercising the rights of citizenship. That’s why our history puts the lie to American history’s mainstream myths. Almost half of the delegates to the Constitutional Convention, some of whom wrote so eloquently of freedom, owned other men as slaves. For most of its history, this country profited immensely from forcibly denying us freedom and liberty, by keeping us in chains, and from our labor as sub-citizens. Our history puts the lie to America’s history as popularly told.
Do we want to continue to teach our children black history through a white racial frame? That is the practical effect of stating that black history is American history. It states that the majority veil should be placed on the history that we teach our children. It states that we should forego the right that every other culture assumes — the right to teach our history from our own point of view, and to be the heroes of our own stories — and instead subsume our history within the majority’s. It states that we do not have the right to express our rage at the barbarities we endured, for those are histories that the majority has little willingness to accept and examine, and for good reason: They put the lie to treasured American myths.
To pronounce that black history is American history says that every black child should learn that after Vernon Dahmer’s home was firebombed in Mississippi and Dahmer died from his wounds, the outraged white community worked to rebuild the Dahmer home. It says that black children needn’t learn that in Brookhaven, Mississippi, in 1955, Lamar Smith was shot dead on the courthouse lawn in broad daylight by a white man for the crime of organizing blacks to vote, and that the known killer was never indicted because, per the Southern Poverty Law Center, “no one would admit they saw a white man shoot a black man.”
To say black history is American history approves the endless repetition of a Martin Luther King Jr. quotation:
I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality. … I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word….
It says black children needn’t bother with another strand of King’s thinking:
It is an unhappy truth that racism is a way of life for the vast majority of white Americans, spoken and unspoken, acknowledged and denied, subtle and sometimes not so subtle — the disease of racism permeates and poisons a whole body politic.