Right now, all over the United States, Black families are teaching the next generation of Black youth with intention and care. Black History Month is a time to consciously center and celebrate Black empowerment and achievements, as well as the legacies of strength and struggle against racism. It’s a time to honor the whole of Black history, rooted in rites, rituals and intellectual traditions from across the African diaspora.
Black History Month is more than 28 days of remembering. From a Black perspective, the month is a deep acknowledgment of Black beauty, pride and incredible faith and fortitude despite living through more than 400 years of oppression.
So, what does Black History Month mean for teaching White youth with intention and care?
For White families this might feel trickier. White people parenting today may not have been raised with a focus on Black history, so they may not feel like they know enough or know what to do. Some parents may know it’s important we all celebrate Black excellence but worry that participating at home might be a form of appropriation. Others realize that legacies of racial inequality and White privilege are the reasons Black accomplishments are so remarkable. Acknowledging that might feel complicated, even overwhelming.
So where to begin? We want to suggest you start where you are. Here are 12 ideas for what to do (and a few things to avoid). Why 12 ideas? Because Black history deserves your attention all year, and you can make a commitment to practicing a new idea each month.
Lift up many Black figures
Focus on Black children and youth who have been freedom fighters
Children get excited when they hear about other children. But also, kids receive so many messages implying they have to wait until they are “grown up” to make a difference. It’s not true. What a perfect time to learn about Black youth who have made change while teaching White youth they can participate and do so, too.
Embrace the ‘both/and’
When we celebrate Black history there is a risk of sending a message that what we’re celebrating isn’t also American history. It’s important we explain clearly to White children that one effect of racism is that not enough of us have been taught about Black excellence and that’s why we need Black History Month. This also means we need to value and talk more about Black history all the time; because Black history is American history.
Celebrate Black joy and Black love
But do teach about the struggle honestly
Choose 12 books by Black authors
Commit to a Black-led organization
Ask your kids what they are learning in school
American education systems have never provided a full, diverse, celebratory account of Black contributions. Parents can make it a habit to ask specifically what kids are learning in school. This creates opportunity to correct, clarify and expand what they are learning. It might even help you identify a role in supporting your school in offering fuller accounts of our shared racial story.
Celebrate Black leadership in your local community
Not every Black person excelling is famous. There are people leading with courage right where you live. Who are the visionaries, justice workers and Black Americans who helped to shape the community you enjoy and experience today? Ask this question with your children. Celebrate the answers. And then, find ways for your family to support those leaders.
Black people are diverse
Black people are also women who experience sexism. LGBTQ peoples are part of the Black community. Support White youth in developing critical thinking skills by exploring the intersections between identities and justice movements. The Black Lives Matter movement, for example, was started by three Black women who are also queer. It is deeply inclusive and constantly recognizes intersections between racial, gender and environmental justice, disability rights and more, creating pathways toward equity that honor the innate worth and dignity of all Black life.
Reject the perfectionism trap! We all have more to keep learning. It’s easy to get stuck if you believe you have to know or be able to perfectly explain everything. Just start where you are. In fact, it’s important White youth see adults model humility and curiosity. Youth benefit when parents say, “I’m not sure. Let’s find out”; “I never learned this and am glad I’m learning it now with you”; and even “I thought I knew but it turns out I was wrong; I am grateful for a chance to understand differently.” Next thing you know, they’ll be modeling such behaviors, too, and teaching the adults things about Black history.
White families can celebrate Black History Month in ways that are genuine. When they do, they contribute to the multiracial invitation to raise a generation of youth able to honor Black excellence and participate fully in the journey of growing democracy and justice for all.