Yes, there will be a quiz today. Please answer the following question without cheating. In the last four years, name the movie that won the Academy Award for Best Picture which had more than one name in its title? (Hint: It’s not Moonlight, Birdman, or Argo.)
That’s a real question that was asked at an event I attended where they engaged the audience in a game of trivia. Our table was full of black folks and none of us came up with the right answer. But a table full of white folks were all over it.
The answer is ’12 Years a Slave.’
The reaction at our table was mixed. Some were embarrassed we didn’t get it right and others shared that they forgot all about that movie. Makes you wonder how an Oscar winning movie with black folks in it could be so easily forgotten by black folks.
The answer may partially be found in a recent article I read in the Philadelphia Inquirer from the Washington Post – ‘Is Slavery an Ignored Subject?’
Black folks are very conflicted with the topic of slavery. Some feel it’s important to learn and connect to our ancestors for strength, knowledge, and wisdom. Many don’t want anything to do with slavery and would prefer the topic never come up because of its reminder of a time when we were treated as less than a person.
By comparison, I’ve never met a Jewish person who doesn’t know every detail about the Holocaust. The history seems to be ingrained in their heads as a little kids and they grow up with a clear perspective of how they’re shaped by their history.
This article goes into the classrooms of America and divulges how slavery is presented. Here’s some of their findings.
The report argues that the United States “needs an intervention in the ways that we teach and learn about the history of American slavery,” which will require work “by state educational departments, teacher preparation programs, school boards, textbooks publishers, museums, professional organizations and thought leaders.
Trying to get all those entities on the same page could take decades.
It found that while teachers say they are serious about teaching the subject, they are uncomfortable doing so. State content standards do not largely convey the need to teach about the history of slavery and most textbooks fail to convey the reality of slavery
If teachers are uncomfortable with slavery and there’s no standard for teaching slavery and the text books don’t convey realities of slavery, then, duh!
Other problems include the prevalence of lessons that portray slavery as only a Southern institution, that fail to connect slavery and white supremacy, and that provide no real context about slavery, “preferring to present the good news before the bad.”
What, slavery wasn’t only in the South? Hold on to your wig but are they suggesting white supremacy had anything to do with slavery? And, is there really any good news about slavery?
Here’s what they mean by the good news of slavery vs. the bad news…
In elementary school, if slavery is mentioned at all in state content standards, it is generally by implication, with references to the Underground Railroad or other ‘feel good’ stories that deal with slavery’s end, rather than its inception and persistence. Young students learn about liberation before they learn about enslavement; they learn to celebrate the Constitution before learning about the troublesome compromises that made its ratification possible. They may even learn about the Emancipation Proclamation before they learn about the Civil War.”
Here’s the goal…
The point is not to teach American history as a chronicle of shame and oppression. Far from it. The point is to tell American history as a story of real human beings, of power, of vast economic and geographical expansion, of great achievements as well as great dispossession, of human brutality and human reform. The point is also not to merely seek the story of what we are not, but of what we are — a land and a nation built in great part out of the economic and political systems forged in or because of slavery and its expansion. Slavery has much to do with the making of the United States.
Slavery will always be one of those touchy topics a lot of folks will prefer not to tread on. Blacks and whites experienced slavery differently and they probably need to learn about slavery differently. But the common lesson that should be learned is that slavery should not be a topic that’s ignored or presented as only a good news event.
A couple years ago someone gave me the book ‘Slavery by Another Name’ by Douglas Blackmon. I was too upset that this book was my first introduction about convict leasing going on right after slavery was abolished. So, I’m still learning, too.
I don’t know if black folks will ever really care about ’12 Years a Slave’ but I warn you to move out the way of any Negro heading to the theater to go see ‘Black Panther’ in the next week or so. The appetite for viewing an all black all star cast in a big budget movie shown living large in a country that’s never been touched by the white man’s colonization is what blacks care about much more than a comic Django or a serious Birth of a Nation.
Happy Black History Month!