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Black History Month Takeaways for Parents: The Do's and the Don'ts.

We are at the end of February which means we are at the end of Black History Month. Our MAR Blogger Becky Leyva, who is a descendant of colonizers but mom to biracial children, gives us a summary of some BHM do's and don'ts for parents.

Black and white photo of Sir John A Macdonald circa 1875

We need to focus less on the struggle, which has been the focal point of many schools teaching Black History, and more on the myriad of inspiration Black people bring and the role models all our children can look up to.

We are at the end of February which means we are at the end of Black History Month. This means, for many, the end of learning about Black history. However, for change to happen we need to understand our past. “You have to know the past to understand the present” - Carl Sagan. So it is of paramount importance to learn about the history of Black Canadians, Americans, and global communities. It’s also important to recognize that the way we’ve been teaching Black history in schools, and in the home, is inherently problematic.

I’d like to begin this blog as I begin all of my writing on the subject of racial equality: by acknowledging that I am a white woman, mother to biracial children, and a descendant of colonizers who is living on stolen land. I am merely sharing the knowledge I have acquired and sourced here. It is my job as a parent, and the duty of all white people, to learn anti-racism concepts, and to work to actively dismantle the system we have built.

In the case of Black History Month (and beyond), I’d like to call on all non-Black people of colour to also seek out ways in which we can support our Black friends, coworkers, neighbors, and family. By continuing to learn and teach our children about Black history, we help to create not only non-racist but anti-racist children.

Below are some things to consider when discussing the stories of Black history with your children.

Don’t Focus Only on Trauma

An important part of sharing Black history with our children is fostering an empathetic understanding of the atrocities Black people experience that began with slavery and continues on to this day. But Black history is not only about this. You must also create a cultural celebration of the people of African descent and their resilience. Don’t solely focus on the trauma and horror of history; the history of Black people did not start with slavery. Black people were educators, doctors, and business people prior to being stolen and made into slaves. It is an injustice to focus on just the trauma as it does not tell the whole story.

Start with conversations that honor and respect the contribution of Black people, Black communities, to our world and the ways in which we can be inspired by the resilience and brilliance of Black people globally.

It’s also important to include Black voices in your lessons and discussions as the majority of historical writing and textbooks are written through a white lens. Share the work of Black historians, scientists, and inventors; folks that have excelled in the fields of literature, art, and math. Include books and videos by Black creators and authors. Here is a list of 25 Books on Everyday Blackness from MAR that you can start with.

We need to focus less on the struggle, which has been the focal point of many schools teaching Black History, and more on the myriad of inspiration Black people bring and the role models all our children can look up to.

Teaching and acknowledging the horrific realities of slavery is an important part of the understanding of Black history, but it should not be the only part of this story. While it isn’t necessary to traumatize children, an age-appropriate explanation is possible. This article in the Washington Post, Beyond Slavery and Civil Rights; What Parents Need to Know about Black History Month, which includes quotes from the National Education Association and the Monticello Teacher Institute, gives a great overview of how to have these conversations

It should go without saying but things like slavery reenactments, a lesson of the “happy slave”, or outright avoidance of the subject are all big don'ts. Another don’t is...

Don’t Limit Black History to February

Limiting the discussion of Black history to one month of the year can have negative effects that are twofold:

  • the existence of this history and the depths of the racialized structures in place are not properly acknowledged; and

  • it creates an unwanted hyper-visibility for Black children in schools—a place they’ve historically been overlooked (for things like gifted programs and scholarships), or over-disciplined and policed (not only for real or perceived misbehaving but also for their hair and bodies).

Black stories need to be told throughout the year and integrated into all forms of learning. Reducing these discussions to one month a year enables non-Black parents to remain apathetic in their own learning and unlearning. After all, our collective current ability to ignore the existence of anti-Black racism eleven months of the year allows us as parents to also miss the opportunity to teach our children about it.

“Black History Month will never reach its potential without the complete and ongoing accounting of the way people of African descent have been thought leaders, builders, designers, creators, pioneers, scientists, farmers, philosophers, musicians, medical practitioners, soldiers, and educators throughout history,” says Dionne Grayman, a staff developer at Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility.

White Parents: Do the Learning Yourself and Model Your Behavior For Your Children

Firstly, we need to begin with our own understanding of Black history, or lack thereof, as white or non-Black parents of colour. For example, we need to unlearn the falsehood that structural racism began with the transatlantic slave trade and that it ended with the civil rights movement. While learning about Black history is important, it’s impossible to unlearn our own socialized and inherent biases in just one single month of the year. We need to work harder.

As parents, we must behave in a way that our children can look to as a model of how to be anti-racist. If you’re white and are at the beginning of your journey toward understanding your position of privilege, here are some resources to get you started:

Do Hold Teachers Accountable

One of the main disservices done to Black people and their history is the way that it is taught. There are many accounts of educators hastily throwing together a curriculum or assembly simply out of obligation, and not a genuine desire to teach students anything meaningful, which has traumatic effects.

While we need to hold schools accountable for their fumbled participation (or lack thereof) in Black History Month, we also need to support and honor those teachers who are trying. Teachers who are making an effort to incorporate Black history and current issues that affect Black folks should be a valuable resource for white and non-Black POC parents to grow alongside.

Reach out to your children's teacher and ask them how they plan to continue learning about Black history throughout the year and how you can help make this happen.


Don’t Forget About the Modern-day Black Experience

Instead of only relating to Black people in a binary of trauma or excellence, teach your children about everyday blackness. Everywhere around us folks in the Black community are leaders in their fields; making significant contributions to our modern life through their talents in everything from sports, fashion, and journalism to leading the corporate world. Check out this thoughtful list of some influential Black female Canadians and share their stories with your children.

Celebrate Black voices by including books and music in your home from Black creators. Watch shows and movies that center Black people in a positive way. Learn about the cultural practices of your neighbors and suggest books to be included in your child’s school or public library written by Black folks. Advocate for an inclusive curriculum and teach your children to learn from the Black people in your life.

These are not simple, one-time discussions to have with our children. The hope is that our personal unlearning and the informed teaching of our children will be the touching off point for a Black history that is not relegated to one month of the year but is instead woven throughout, taking its proper place as a part of our collective history.

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