I just read an article on Tavis Smiley’s blog that raises an excellent question: Are Whites Entitled to Write Black History?
On the surface, some think the race of the person writing the historical event should not matter. For argument’s sake, let’s take race out of it. I suggest that we let scholars in Vietnam write American History. Oh…now that changes things doesn’t it? Certainly, the interpretation of why certain events took place would change. Or maybe we should allow the British to take charge of telling the American story. (I hear patriotic folks passing out all over the country.) So, why is this question of which race is able to interpret black history better such a controversial question? Why does this matter in 2011?
The proverb referenced in Alan Katz’ post says it best: “Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.” The fact of the matter is, the truth is uncomfortable. It wasn’t until I was an adult searching for little know black history fact online and in books, that I realized how much black history was not taught in school. Although the American History classes I attended covered slavery, emancipation, Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement, it did not cover much else where black history was concerned. During Black History month, we learned about a few other notables such as: George Washington Carver, Frederick Douglass, sojourner Truth, Madame C.J. Walker; and by the time I was in high school Malcolm X was added to the “notables” list.
Why does this matter in 2011? Well, unfortunately, the same limited information is still being taught in most schools. In some places Black History Month has become Multi-Cultural Awareness month. My 14-year-old only discovered the Triangle Trade Route this summer when she and I were discussing black history.
The fact of the matter is: Black History is not pretty, romantic or full of happy endings. There is a lot of pain, and horror woven into telling the stories of black people. The things blacks suffered 300 years ago, still have an impact on black communities today. However, there are a multitude of victories, and successes achieved by black men and women that have yet to be told. A white person writing black history will deliver a different perspective compared to a black person who has lived with the generational impact of this history.
Give me your thoughts. Who do you think should tell history of black people and why?