One of Roland Martin’s recent guests was a mom who was upset with her five-year-old son’s elementary school because she thought the lesson on slavery went too far. Parts of it included a take–home survey with questions about slavery, a coloring book page depicting a slave auction and, the biggest offender, according to his mom, acting out a slave auction in class.
So, the story and the mom’s reaction sparked a bit of a controversy and the question had to be asked: Is five years old too young to learn about slavery?
Most people I talked to agreed that the discussion of slavery should begin at childhood, but they disagreed about the re-enactment of the slave auction. They also felt five-years-old might be a little young, but I don’t think so.
I even asked First Lady Michelle Obama at what age she thought discussing slavery was appropriate. She said it’s up to each family to decide, but as for the Obamas, they began discussing Black history when their girls were very young. (You can hear the interview in its entirety here.)
I agree with the First Lady’s point. When a child begins to learn about his or her own identity, who their parents and grandparents and other ancestors are, they should learn the truth about how they got here. Why skirt around OUR truth? OUR history?
I also believe that white people should talk about it with their families as well. We spend too much time in this country ignoring the elephant in the room. We will never get any closer to having a real conversation on racism if black AND white people aren’t willing to acknowledge not just our roots in this country but the impact it’s had on us all… as individuals and a nation. As I said in my book, “I’m Just a D.J. But it Makes Sense to Me,” everything wrong with black America can be traced back to slavery—poverty, many of our health problems, insecurities, abusive behavior towards other and ourselves—all of it. Is that to say we would be a perfect race had we not been slaves? (I know that’s where the critics were going.) No. Is it to say black people are a race of poor, violent people who are messed up in the head? (I’m one step ahead of you.) Not saying that either. I am saying that being kidnapped from our homeland, separated from our family members, forbidden to marry or learn to read, and beaten and, in some cases, treated worse than animals, has left some scars that have lasted throughout history. We can put on the best suits, uniforms, jerseys, choir robes and costumes, but none of those things erase what’s underneath.
Heck, we can’t even unite about what we should be called as a people. During a discussion about the word “Negro” being taken off of the census form, some of our Text Tom Club members made it clear that they didn’t want to be called African Americans because they’ve never been to Africa…some even went so far to say, “Africans don’t like us.”
I think that proves we need to be taught about our heritage… from the womb.
Like the Jews whose ancestors were victims of the Holocaust, Africa and slavery are part of us and knowing exactly who we are can be used not just as a reminder of where we’ve been but as proof of our strength, perseverance and a testament to how far we’ve come.
I want our kids to learn as early as they can, and if doing a re-enactment of a slave auction is the best way to illustrate the point, I’m with that, too.
Am I wrong?