An end to Black History Month? Susan Rice on White Kids' Learning Black History

A dated book from Susan Rice suggesting a new way of incorporating Black history in the texts is not totally off the mark and is key to doing away with race divisions & the need for Black History Month Photo: Associated Press

WASHINGTON, DC, December 5, 2012 — Recently, several senior Republican legislators have been questioning whether the current U.S. Ambassador to the United Nation Susan Rice is fit to succeed a retiring Hillary Rodham Clinton as Secretary of State. Rice is rumored to be among President Obama’s top picks. Lawmakers have focused on statements Rice made on Sunday news talk shows following an attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya where armed forces stormed and killed US Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and  three other American embassy staffers.

Dr. Rice is facing criticism from all corners, but particularly form the political right. Some have started to question an 86-page book, “A History Deferred” that Rice penned  in 1986 while interning at a nonprofit advocacy group, the Black Student Fund, when she was 22 years old.

Actually, Rice simply pointed out that it’s not necessarily a good thing for children to  grow up in an education system where they never learn about people who look like them making any contribution to society and life. 

A Daily Caller article pointed out the following passages:

*Rice noted in her book’s foreword [that] most students were “taught American history, literature, art, drama, and music largely from a White, western European perspective. As a result, their grasp of the truth, of reality, is tainted by a myopia of sorts.”

* “American history cannot be understood fully or evaluated critically without ample study of Black history,” Rice added.

* “Ultimately, what is more important than the White or majority perception of black Americans is the black man, woman, and child’s perception of themselves,” Rice wrote.

* The greatest evil in omitting or misrepresenting Black history, literature, and culture in elementary or secondary education is the unmistakable message it sends to the Black child. The message is “your history, your culture, your language and your literature are insignificant. And so are you.”

Rice’s critics have called the these passages separatist, rejected them and suggested they are further proof Rice isn’t fit to be Secretary of State.

Hold on to that thought and let’s rewind seven years.

Another well-known African American, actor Morgan Freeman, took a controversial position on this topic.

Sort of.

During a 2005 interview with 60 Minutes’  Mike Wallace, Freeman said he found the concept of Black History Month ridiculous.

“You’re going to relegate my history to a month,” Freeman said, and then asked Wallace when is Jewish history month. When Wallace said there isn’t one, Freeman replied, I don’t need a Black History Month: “Black History is American history.” 

When Freeman suggested that Black History Month ought to be done away with, he drew the ire of many in the Black community – perhaps prematurely and because they didn’t know of the full context of Freeman’s statements.

There is an already existing movement supporting what Freeman advocated in that  interview called Curriculum Transformation.  The theory is based on the idea that instead of plucking a month out of the year to celebrate Black, Hispanic, Asian and Native-American history that the contributions of these groups, their roles and value to American history and life should be woven into what American secondary education school children and college kids learn and without too much overemphasis on the race of the contributor. Normalize things.

The concept is right on the money. The notion of carving out one month to celebrate a particular group is an indication that the group is not recognized generally in traditional school curriculum. 

The elevation of one month could indeed breed contempt and project the perception that those who belong to the group are a part of those “other” Americans, not really truly Americans. Also highlighting exceptional Black Americans one time out of 12 months has the inevitable risk of leaving out the many thousands who have made exceptional contributions to American life. 

It could also create the perception that Black achievement is an anomaly, something not to be expected.

Rather, everyday, throughout history African Americans and individuals from other groups have blazed trails in science, math, literature, social science, anthropology, and other fields.

If these contributions were regularly mentioned as common, people would not be so surprised to learn of them and assume certain groups only contribute negative things to society. The mentality changes in early schooling.

Imagine! Students would learned about African American scientist George Washington Carver’s contribution to farming or Charles Drew’s innovation with handling human plasma at the same time they learn of Thomas Edison or Benjamin Franklin’s inventions, even in October.

In April, during the time in U.S. history class is discovering the benefits of women’s suffragists Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, they’d also learn of historical figures like Harriet Tubman, founder of the Underground Railroad and celebrated advocate and journalist Ida B. Wells.

Similarly, while studying the founders in January, who fought British rule, they would learn about martyr Crispus Atticus, the first person to die during the Boston Tea massacre, a free slave of Native American heritage, who is considered a hero of the revolution.

While reading speeches of great orators like Abraham Lincoln, there would be also be readings from from Frederick Douglass.

While studying U.S. figures who had their hand in international peacemaking, along with former president and peace evangelist Jimmy Carter, they would also learn about Dr. Ralph Johnson Bunche, who received the 1950 Nobel Peace Prize for his mediation efforts in Palestine during the 1940.

Equally, leaders in their fields from other races and ethnic groups who helped shape America, regardless of ethnicity, to be what it is today should also be intertwined in the curriculum.

As children learn and grow, they will recognize and realize that the fabric of America is made up from contributions from a variety of people and there would be no need to highlight their contributions at insular periods of the year.

Over time, there would be no need to overemphasize the race of a person who achieves because it should and would no longer matter.

Granted, we are not there yet and far from it, but changing the curriculum is a start. 

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Jeneba Ghatt
Jeneba Jalloh Ghatt is a former journalist turned lawyer turned citizen journalist. Currently, she manages her boutique communications law firm, where she has represented small businesses and nationally-recognized civil and consumer rights organizations before the United States Supreme Court, federal courts and the FCC. She also covers the White House and US Congress for the online news site while authoring her own influential blog which is frequently accessed by top policy makers and think tanks, and the investment community. focuses on the intersection of politics and technology and reports on policies and rules in the communications and tech sector.
Before opening her law firm, The Ghatt Law Group, which was the first communications firm owned by women and minorities, Jeneba regulated Comcast and Starpower as the Assistant General Counsel for the District of Columbia's Office of Cable Television and Telecommunications, and at one point was the only communications regulatory attorney in the entire city. She is founding member and policy chair for a new trade association, the National Association of Multicultural Digital Entrepreneurs and provides advice and counsel to new businesses in the tech industry, particularly small businesses owned by women and minorities.

Born in Sierra Leone, West Africa, but raised in the United States by her Catholic mom and Muslim dad, she started her college career creating web content for one of the earliest websites in history while working part time for the University of Maryland's Office of Technology. Following her graduation from the Catholic University of America, Columbus School of Law, she founded and co-wrote one of the earliest blogs and since then has gone on to found and author six different widely read and influential blogs. She was one of only 22 writers and bloggers to attend the first White House summit for African American media.
She holds a Certificate in Communications Law Studies from Catholic; a Juris Doctor from there as well, and a Master of Law in advocacy degree from the Georgetown University Law Center where she first taught and lectured as a Staff Attorney and Graduate fellow at that law school's Institute for Public Representation. She later went on to teach Media Law at the University of Maryland at College Park and guest lecture at Yale Law School and Penn State University, College of Telecommunications. She is well skilled and versed with social media and manages several Twitter, Facebook, Linked In accounts and groups.
She sits on the board of several non profits and trade associations.

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