When I was a child in school, Black History Month was when I first learned about African-American heros like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglas and George Washington Carver. While it was refreshing to learn of these people and their contribution to history, I also learned how very unfairly Blacks were treated in the United States before the Civil Rights era. Even in the midst of celebrating “us”, the “Black as the underdog” thing was looming and stayed in the back of my mind. Honestly, Black History Month was one of the few times I didn’t so much mind being “different” or more like my African-American counterparts. As a Haitian-American child, I knew that my parents didn’t have the same history that I was learning about. I was still “different” — but this time I felt like maybe it wasn’t so bad.
As a parent today, I hate that my children have to learn that their country didn’t (and in many cases still doesn’t) treat Black people and other people of color fairly because of the color of their skin. Although the list of Black Heros that my kids are learning is longer than what I remember being taught growing up, I wonder if Black people being the historical underdog looms in their young minds as well.
Isn’t Black History Month supposed to uplift? Without discounting what our kids are already being taught about the historical contribution of African-Americans, why aren’t they also being taught more uplifting stories about Black people? Why aren’t they learning about Egyptian Kings and Queens? Why isn’t Haitian History part of the curriculum? It’s a more recent history. I am of the belief (and yes, I might be biased) that Haitian history is not just for Haitians — it is literally BLACK history — a story of redemption for all people of color who have ever been enslaved. Is the story of the Haitian Revolution too militant? Surely it’s not more militant than the story of white settlers coming to a foreign country and taking what wasn’t theirs to begin with (i.e. American history). I suppose we shouldn’t depend on the hunter to tell the lion’s story.
I make it my business to share that history with my children — and whoever else will listen. (When my eldest was in Kindergarten, I spoke to his class about the Haitian Revolution during Black History Month). Haiti’s history is all too often ignored in terms of its importance and significance. What a momentous event! The story of the Haitian Revolution is an event that has significance, not only for Black people, but for all of humanity. When the slaves revolted in mass in 1791 after a long struggle against the French army, they were able to proclaim Haiti’s independence and the end of slavery in 1804. It was the first time that a whole people (Black people!) extended the notion of freedom to everybody. Not only that, they also demonstrated that slavery is the unnatural state, and freedom is the natural state of people. They rightfully took back what was theirs!
We need to boost our kids’ self esteem with this story. Obviously the schools are not going to to it, so it is our responsibility. My children have both African-American and Haitian ancestors, and I think it’s my job, as a Haitian American parent, to make sure they know something about the history of both sides of their family. I think even if half of their family wasn’t Haitian, this is a story worth telling — especially to our Black children. Haitian History is BLACK history. It is a victorious history of an oppressed people who fought for — and won — their freedom. This should be part of the Black History curriculum. Until the lion tells his side of the story, the tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunter (even when the hunter wants you to think it’s all about the lion for a month).