Deciphering the Backlash Against Teaching Black History
Why the battle for national history continues
Lawmakers in the United States recently filed legislation to ban teaching content from the New York Times’ 1619 Project, which frames American history in light of the legacy of slavery. In one state, a school allowed parents to opt their children out of Black history lessons altogether.
This backlash comes amid a renewed interest in teaching what Professor LaGarrett King, director of the Carter Center for Black History Education at the University of Missouri College of Education, calls “quality, critical, humanistic Black history in the classrooms”. Many school districts across the United States have in fact upped investment in Black history teaching and several states have passed legislation mandating Black history be taught in public schools. These policies are overwhelmingly popular among students and teachers which makes the backlash all the more perplexing.
Some have surmised that the backlash has little educational merit and evidences a wider fear by the dominant classes of the loss of their monopoly on the constructing of national historical narratives. Eddie Glaude, professor of African American studies at Princeton University, describes this fear as manifesting “when a Black man, whose destiny and identity have always been controlled by others, decides and states that he will control his destiny and rejects the identity given to him by others”. Glaude holds that ultimately it is about denial: the backlash is part of “America’s exquisitely painful and frustrating struggle to face the truth of its treatment of Black people over centuries”. Though Glaude is speaking about the US, his comment could equally apply to the UK or France, where tensions continue to manifest in relation to the teaching of colonial and world history.
In the UK, there was an outcry when a recent report stated that racism in Britain was not institutional. Many people lambasted the UK Government as they believed the country had not yet done enough to receive this adulation. The report was heavily criticised as many argued that even teaching Black history in schools in the UK remained a challenge. Many critics say that for a Government that wants to be seen as non-racial, enabling a more representative curriculum would be a great start.
National exam data from the UK collated by The Guardian newspaper shows that although schools are permitted to teach Black history, few of them do. Only 11% of students studying for national exams are studying modules that refer to Black people’s contribution to Britain. And less than one in 10 are studying a module with a focus on empire, despite this being a significant part of the last 400 years of British history. Of the 59 history modules available at A-Level from the three biggest exam boards, only 12 explicitly mention Black history. And of those, only five mention the history of Black people in Britain; the rest are about Black people in the US, other countries, or the transatlantic slave trade.
Find out more: Foundation Certificate in African History
As an organisation based in the UK, the African History Project focuses on educating all who want to learn more about Black history. We have not been spared from the criticism and backlash but hold strong to our commitment to showcasing constructive and critical Black historical narratives. We are unrelenting in all efforts because we realise the grave consequences of not providing this education.
We believe strongly that people must be made aware of the contributions that were made by Black people to the development of Britain. We want to support teachers to deliver constructive and engaging history programmes that don’t shy away from addressing these important aspects of the nation’s history. In regards to world history, Black history goes beyond contact with the Europeans; Black people have always had their history and we want to support teachers to be able to teach robust Black world history too.
We feel that it’s vital for all students to see constructive depictions of themselves reflected in the classroom. After all, can we really claim to be nurturing global citizens if we exclude the historical narratives of the people and descendents of the second biggest continent in the world?
Cite this article:
Umolu, Apeike. “Deciphering the Backlash Against Teaching Black History”. The Africxn Review, the Journal of the African History Project. 2022.
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The teaching of Black history is a major topic covered on our Foundation Certificate in African History. If you would like more information about our Foundation Certificate, please send us a message using the form below and we will be happy to help: