There is an African proverb that states, “Until the lion tells his side of the story, the tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.”
As long as we continue to allow individuals or entities that do not appreciate and understand our culture to tell our stories, they will always be told inaccurately. During Black History Month, we are reminded of the directive to continue sharing our history, our way.
It cannot be overstated that the erasure of Black history is deliberate and effective. If you can make a group of people believe they are not worth anything and have never accomplished anything, you can successfully keep them from striving for anything. They will continuously accept crumbs and scraps from the table instead of the bountiful harvest they are due.
As each Black History Month rolls around, some children are taught small anecdotes about Black historical figures. Other children are not taught any Black history at all. This lack of information is unfortunately a growing trend.
For those that are fortunate enough to receive small doses, they may learn about Martin Luther King, Jr. whose legacy was reduced to a man who had a dream. Though this phrase relays a sentiment of hope for a better future, he had much more to offer in the way of challenging the status quo and directly addressing the class disparities that are prevalent today. The shrinking of the middle class can be directly related to issues he brought to the forefront until the very end of his life. Rosa Parks’ contributions were dwindled down to a story about a lady who was too tired to get up instead of a coordinated effort by civil rights leaders who had meticulously planned a revolution, utilizing the power of economics to support their cause. Malcolm X, if he was mentioned at all, was a man who would seek out justice “by any means necessary,” but the exact aim of his actions was never clarified by mainstream teachings.
For every one person who had the honor of being mentioned in the usual Black history teachings, there are countless more esteemed Black Americans whose lives and work are all but forgotten. The practice of erasing or altering history is not new or unique to America.
Similar historical alterations or rewrites and changing what is taught to children in schools has reportedly happened around the world in countries like India, China and Brazil. Across the globe and throughout time, when a new power conquered an area, they made sure to wipe out the religions, language and cherished leaders of that culture. The new leaders needed the people to fall in line, and so it was imperative for them not to remember who they used to be.
We have the opportunity now to right that wrong. In the face of book-banning, curriculum rewriting and false narratives in the media, we must be intentional about telling our stories ourselves.
I find it quite strange how some people would rather give credit to aliens for building the pyramids as opposed to acknowledging the brilliance of African engineering. Yes, Egypt was and still is in Africa.
So often the narrative becomes about what Black people can’t do, instead of what they had not been allowed to do for centuries. If reading was illegal and severely punished for centuries, it would only make sense that literacy rates may be lower. If owning a successful business could lead the owner being lynched, then it would logically follow that people would be less inclined to start businesses. If establishing your own self-sufficient town could end in a bloody massacre, then you might just stop building towns.
In Willie Lynch’s infamous “The Making of a Slave,” he writes that one step toward making someone permanently subservient is to “shave off the brute’s mental history and create a multiplicity of phenomena of illusions that each illusion can twirl into its own orbit, something similar to floating balls in a vacuum.” In other words, fill a person’s head with junk and take away their connections to their own personal history and you take one more step to being able to control them forever.
Thus, the call to action stands before us every day, not just during Black History Month, to keep telling our tale. Speak the names of those who have made an impact in our lives and in our communities. Share the stories of our ancestors. Write down the stories that have been passed from one generation to the next. Let us not release our stories to others who will misuse, misunderstand and misspeak about who we are.