op-ed: yes, we need african-american history classes

July 15, 2014

“Why should they have their own classes? I don’t understand what the big deal is.” Flabbergasted. Shocked. In my head, I resembled Munch’s “The Scream”, but I am sure I appeared more calm than the inner turmoil I was experiencing. I stared at my high school classmates circa 1988 or so, none of which were African-American—some were Japanese-American, Mexican, Jewish, perhaps Armenian but in that particular class none were black or else the words would not have been spoken.

By Angelique Giron, AFROPUNK Contributor *

In Pasadena, California, I attended a high school that was a melting pot of race, ethnicity, color and socioeconomic background. By the time high school hit, I began to feel like I could at least blend in without any regard to what race I was or wasn’t. My friends had always been all colors and a myriad of cultures. Race was never an issue among my friends—we were just whoever we were, relatively happy to be friends.

When I sat in that class and listened to those comments, those comments in relation to my boyfriend at the time’s vocal request to begin an African-American history class, the comments that I thought only existed 20 years before, comments laced with racism and exclusion belonged to a bygone era, the comments took me for the biggest loop. Yes, I naïvely knew that racism existed. It existed in the South, a place we fled in order to avoid and to grow up without blatant racism and left over / self-imposed segregation. It existed in the distant past, prior to my birth, where my mom and dad were arrested for just being together, racism existed in World War 2 when my Paw Paw completed a tour of duty—a German waitress rubbed his hand to see if his blackness “rubbed” off. Racism did not exist in this culturally diverse environment of Southern California (upon reflection, much of Pasadena cannot be deemed diverse, but public school was). My passing status allowed people to say potentially offensive remarks, such as the ones in class, in my presence without considering the audience. I have been privy to viewpoints from whites and blacks that are downright racist from both sides because of my in-between status. Because of this, I feel both a kinship and an unease of being able to straddle uncomfortable territory.

In class that day, it was the first time. The first of many uncomfortable moments of being shocked at limiting beliefs based on years of lies and oppression. It was sad and disheartening. It still is. I interpreted the request to have an African-American history class as simple when it was in its beginning stages. Little did I know, it would become so politicized and heated in such a short amount of time. The sheltering my mom provided by moving us to a more progressive area was shattered in. Of course it was political and personal. It has been as such for any group oppressed who speaks out for change and acceptance. My high school boyfriend wanted our culture honored and learned. He was an admirable spokesperson for what should naturally be. I am not sure if he succeeded or not for future students; there was no African-American history class by the time we graduated.

Education today glosses over so much. I have been a teacher in an urban district for over ten years. There is no African-American history class, no Puerto Rican history class. It is still ruled by what has been taught always—a gross injustice to future generations of minorities. Sure, some of the history is being taught in small pockets, but much has not changed. Where are the role models and examples of the oppressed being taught and celebrated? We need more people speaking up for everyone to be included in our history. It’s still just so sad.

(Ruby Bridges, “the first black child to attend an all-white elementary school in the South”)

* Angelique Giron’s website: www.writeforhealing.com