I can remember as, a homeschooling parent, one of my history lessons was about the settlers coming to America. When I mentioned the word Indian, my seven-year-old daughter became angry. She started telling me how mean, and evil Indians were. I was utterly baffled by her reaction. I spent the next week reeducating her on the history of Native Americans, helping her understand what “really” happened.
I had no idea she had such strong feelings or that she knew anything about Native Americans. I learned valuable lessons about teaching my daughter history in general and about her history and culture in general.
The first lesson I learned, society isn’t waiting for us to teach our children about their heritage, or anybody else’s heritage. Every day our children are being bombarded with information about their culture. They receive cunningly contrived messages; most are negative about themselves and their culture. We have to counteract the information our children are receiving about themselves.
There are many stereotypes about African Americans. Most come directly from slavery. These stereotypes have been around so long that they are almost a part of our subconscious belief system about ourselves and our cultures, and to some degree, we have somewhat accepted them; sad to say, we often repeat these negative messages.
Whether we repeat them in jest or as an insult, our children are listening. Their listening ears and spongy brains are absorbing these negative beliefs. Without intending to, we pass down stereotypes that were born in slavery to the next generation. Do you think they will repeat these words when they are adults? More than likely, they’ll repeat them before adulthood.
Unintentional teaching is effective! Primarily because without realizing it, we consistently repeat the behavior or words.
Second, I learned we have to be proactive. If we want our children to know their history, we must be intentional about teaching it to them. God gives parents instructions on how to teach their children about him Deut. 6:7- 9 "And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thou house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates."
If this method is effective in teaching children about God, surely it will be successful in teaching them about their history. If we teach about God and our history this way, teaching will become unintentional.
Third, know what your goal is in teaching young people about their history. We want to inform and inspire them, not frighten and infuriate them. We want them to recognize the seriousness of owning others as property; another goal is to teach them the process to protect their rights. So how we talk about our history, and each other is important. Slavery was a sad, serious offense to generations of people, and it has and it continues to impact us today negatively.
Many people want to trivialize and minimize the effects of slavery, as Kenye West did, on May 4, 2018, when in an interview, at the TMZ headquarters, he stated, “When you hear about slavery for 400 years…For 400 years? That sounds like a choice.” This statement implied that slaves had hidden powers to free themselves, and that slavery wasn’t that bad, because the slaves stayed there for four hundred years. He recanted, but the idea was out there and those who want will always have that record to justify historical maltreatment of generations of people.
Fourth, I learned to pay attention to what I say and what others are saying around children. They are indeed, little sponges. They may not completely understand the meaning of what is said, but they can tell if we are positive or negative. They will relay our messages in the same tone and almost the same wording to others.
So think twice, no three times before you say something disparaging about your culture or some other culture. Ask yourself some reflective questions. Such as, is what I’m saying true? What is the real message I want to give to this child? Are my motives pure? Think about how this would sound if your child repeated it in front of God.
Try the following strategies as you embark on teaching your children about their heritage:
Start with your own family. Do you know any interesting facts about your ancestors? You can do genealogy with your children if they are old enough. Talking bout grandma, and great-grandpa is very effective in sharing your personal history.
If your teens have academic, artistic, sports interests, look up fun facts about African Americans in that area. Share them.with your teens. Discuss what it must have been like to be an African American in that field during that time.
Make activities fun, engaging, and age-appropriate. There are so many things to do to engage young people. There are museums to explore, books to share, historical sites to visit. There is a big world of African American history to explore. Only our own imagination limits us. Remember every day is an African American History day. Make it a great one!