Make Black Studies Mandatory

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The City of Philadelphia recently announced a revision of its high school curriculum making courses in African and African-American History mandatory. As a person who majored in Black Studies in college, I applaud the City of Brotherly Love for bravely taking the lead in terms of this way overdue initiative. And I hope that school boards around the rest of the country seriously consider following suit. For there is a nationwide crisis in education, evidenced by a growing gap in academic achievement between Blacks and whites.

This difference in performance has been observed not only in the inner city but even in suburbia. I believe that part of the problem is due to a low self-esteem in Black youth, which comes from lingering myths about their ancestors perpetuated by mainstream American History. In order to sanitize the stain of slavery, the standard texts sell school kids a wholesale bill of goods which suggest that Africa was an uncivilized, “dark continent� devoid of culture or tradition. This prevailing notion led inexorably to the rationalization that it was then okay to treat the natives encountered there as property to be captured and carted off, bought and sold, worked and whipped, and raped and lynched, all at the whim of guilt-free whites.

Furthermore, the process of propping-up the Founding Fathers as sacrosanct, virtuous visionaries necessitates a simultaneous negating of the plight of the Africans deliberately excluded from participating in the spoils of the American Revolution. This is why children don't learn that renegade Thomas Paine castigated his fellow patriots as hypocrites, stating unequivocally "the slave-traders should be called devils rather than Christians." Paine, more deserving of admiration than any of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, was right. How else can you explain their signing a document asserting that, "All men are created equal," while simultaneously owning other human beings, knowing full well that what they were up to was immoral? Is it fair to expect black people to memorize Patrick Henry's inflammatory rallying cry, "Give me liberty or give me death!" when he was a slave owning lawyer who egged others on but never even fought for the cause himself?

Black Studies replaces racists like Henry with Black heroes like Nat Turner who acted upon the same idealistic impulses. Plus, it stimulates intelligent inquiry into sensible ethical questions like, why wasn't slavery incompatible with Christianity and democracy? Or, just how much did whites profit, economically, by virtue of free Black labor? Surviving records show that a plantation owner's slaves were typically worth ten times as much as his estate, including the mansion. This means that in colonial days, real estate was abundant and dirt cheap, practically worthless without manpower to work the land.

In sum, Philadelphia's adding of African-American History to the curriculum represents a step in the right direction, provided it is taught not as a means of absolution of past wrongs but as a means of reconciliation and transformation via the truth to a truly colorblind society.  
Black Star columnists and attorney Kam Williams is a member of the NJ, NY, CT, PA, MA & US Supreme Court bars. For more reports and articles please call (212) 481-7745 or click on “subscribe� on the homepage to order the newsstand edition of the world’s best Pan-African publication.

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