The Missing Education About Black Americans
In this opinion short, Sojourners explores the spiritual implications of the missing education and miseducation about Black Americans in the U.S. education system and our biblical mandate to be truth-tellers.
Let's see I was in the 5th grade ...in my Science class, I was taught that the size of our skulls as Black people - or back then, Negro, people of color… was not equivalent to the white skull, so we were told we couldn't learn - and shouldn't expect to because the size of our brain would not hold information. Consequently, it affected me as a child because I had nothing to combat it with. You know, my teacher told me, so you believe whatever your teacher says.
In his 1933 book, The Mis-Education of the Negro, Carter G. Woodson, known as the father of Black history, said, “If you can control a man's thinking you do not have to worry about his action. When you determine what a man shall think, you do not have to concern yourself about what he will do.”
In the 1940s, Dr. Mamie Phipps Clark and her husband, Dr. Kenneth Clark, began conducting experiments to study the psychological effects of segregation on Black children. In what became known as the “Doll Test,” they found that Black children preferred white dolls over Black dolls, and ascribed positive characteristics to the white dolls. The pair’s findings would be cited by the Supreme Court in the Brown v the Board of Education decision that made segregation in U.S. schools illegal – that is on paper.
In some states, it would take military intervention to comply with desegregation of schools. But even today, as activists rally to opt their children out of learning accurate history, it’s clear the education that American students receive is still not integrated.
A study released by Zinn Education Program in January 2022, found 45 out of 50 states fail to adequately educate students on the enduring successes or the horrors of Reconstruction. A 2018 report from the Southern Poverty Law Center revealed only 8 percent of U.S. high school seniors correctly identified slavery as the central cause of the Civil War.
This is not from lack of documentation. In his 1935 essay, “Black Reconstruction in America,” W. E. B. Du Bois detailed how the Encyclopedia Britannica edited or refused Reconstruction accounts from Black historians in favor of what he called “the propaganda of history.” In his essay, Du Bois writes:
I insisted on including the following statement: ‘White historians have ascribed the faults and failures of Reconstruction to Negro ignorance and corruption. But the Negro insists that it was Negro loyalty and the Negro vote alone that restored the South to the Union; established the new democracy, both for white and black, and instituted public schools.’ The editor refused to print [it].
Despite scripture commanding: “You shall not testify falsely [that is, lie, withhold, or manipulate the truth] against your neighbor,” some people today choose to uphold versions of history that “withhold or manipulate truth,” rather than teaching children about the courage and integrity of Black heroes or the conviction of outspoken white allies.
As Christians, what is our responsibility to our youth and to the truth?
Colossians 3:9-10 says it plainly: “Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its Creator.”
When it comes to historical myths and omissions, it’s time to strip off old practices and the lies that support them, to depart from the training of the past, and put our children onto a new path.