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A Compass Called History

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History- The Politics of History

“History is a clock that people use to tell there political and cultural time of day. It is also a compass that people use to find themselves on the map of human geography. History tells a people where they have been and what they have been, where they are and what they are. Most important, history tells a people where they still must go, what they still must be. The relationship of history to the people is the same as the relationship of a mother to her child.” – Dr John Henrik Clarke

As his words so eloquently state, history teaches a people, it helps an individual develop, and gives them a glimpse of who they were, and will be. At every point in one’s education they will likely hear the saying “knowledge is power”. The power of knowledge is not confined to algebra or vocabulary words. Knowledge of your collective history, and knowledge of your great contributions to the world, that to me is Power.

What happens if your history is distorted? What happens if you are only taught of the negative aspects of your past, what if your history was stolen and hidden? What if your people are seldom recognized as great? Can you ever be proud of who you are? If you are not proud of who you are can you ever reach your full potential?

As Howard Zinn points out in his book, The Politics of History, in today’s world traditional force like violence and brutality have overwhelmingly been replaced. “Deception, ‘a blunt way of saying education’ [is] the chief method of keeping society as it is” (Zinn.1990).

There is no coincidence that “startling errors of omission and distortion mar American histories,” and histories worldwide (Loewman 2008). The discrimination and bigotry of the past frame the realities of today in ways that benefit those with the power to define the past.

Terms and Theories

This essay speaks of privilege. When one speaks of privilege we mean, “An invisible package of unearned assets…White privilege is like and invisible weightless backpack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools and blank checks”
( Mcintosh 1).

We attempt to add history to the toolbox because it can place someone in a position of power that they did not earn themselves.

If your history is full of great success and your accomplishments are always told and taught to others those trends of success become the norm/the expected.

The essay also speaks of racial exclusion and stereotypes in the media. For the purpose of this essay, racial exclusion can be defined as the under-representing of racial minorities in the forms of media, in particular the discourse of history (Hodkinson 2011).

When we speak of discourses in history, we mean those terms, symbols, beliefs etc, that help shape our views on the ways in which history should be written, received, validated.

In connection with under-representation is stereotypical representation. “This refers to the narrow and generalized version of the lives and identities of such populations”.
(Hodkinson 2011)

This essay also employs social reproduction theory to analyze the ways in which the current history discourses are reproduced within the schools and classrooms. This theory argues that the schools are institutions of inequality that perpetrate social inequalities.
(Hodkinson 2011).

Part 2: Presentation of Research

I will address how many scholars believe that African history/African American history has been inadequately represented within the totality of world history. And more importantly that this inaccurate and inadequate representation of African American history; is no coincidence.

Through my research I also found that many scholars see a correlation between African and African American students studying history from and Afrocentric view, self esteem, and educational success.

Although Chavarria does not explicitly state that an Afrocentric approach to history should be taken to help African American students with their self esteem and education success, she does state that:

“History should be taught as a means to empowerment for all students…in order to do so, the very restricted, white, male, US- centric perspective has to be challenged”. (Chavarria 2000)

Moreover, she also argues that teaching history in a way that challenges the “norm” can promote success and empowerment. An Afrocentric view of history would challenge the Eurocentric dominance in historiography.

In the article Eurocentrism vs. Afrocentrism, Hoskins argues that the Afrocentrism is the only way to combat Eurocentrism. Like Woodson, Hoskins argues that African and African American people have been victims of systematic oppression through educational systems.

“The vital necessity is for African people to use weapons of education and history to exticate themselves from the psychological dependence complex/syndrome as a necessary precondition to liberation”. (Hoskins 1990)

He argues that the Eurocentric view of history says that African people should always judge themselves by European standards as the norm.

Further, that African people have to seek knowledge of self to be “imbued” with a positive, subconscious sense of self confidence and self empowerment of an individual’s identity and the formation of their motivation and drive to do better.

In an essay entitled Black studies: Expectation and Impact on Self Esteem and Educational Success, the authors address the affect taking black studies classes has on he self esteem and educational success of black college students.

During initial research they found that “A person’s concept of himself is closely connected to how he behaves and learns” (Allen, Carey 1977). Like Dr John Henrik Clarke, the authors believe that a person’s history is paramount to the formation of their identity and their future success. They go on to further explain:

“Increasingly evidence indicates that low performance in school, misdirected motivation, lack of involvement in socially constructive activities, and a host of educationally dysfunctional behavior patterns…may be due to a negative perception of self”. (Allen, Carey 1997).

However, after conducting their own case study on college students who had taken Black studies courses, they found that there was no significant difference between the persons self perception if took black studies classes or not. They also discovered there was no significant difference in GPS’s of students who enrolled in black studies classes and those who did not (Allen, Carey 1977).

Part 3- Media Representation of the Issue

The news outlets on television and print often depict the negative side of Black life/culture. Watching the nightly news, one is more likely to hear about Black-on-Black violence in Chicago than to hear about Urban Prep Charter School (located in one of the roughest neighborhoods in the city) graduating 100% of it’s seniors for the third consecutive year (Urban Prep Gradates All College-Bound For Third Consecutive” 2013). If the story is to be told, it is most likely the shortest spot or article for the day. The representation of black people in the media has a direct affect on the way that the viewers/readers perceive Black people.

At the same time, the beliefs of the viewers/readers influence how images are shown in the media. It is a dialogic relationship.

As the accomplishments of Black people are left out of the textbooks, more and more people unconsciously learn that black people have made few accomplishments to the world. The more people believe Black people have made few accomplishments to the world, the less they are written into history or depicted on TV. As Gray states in his article,

“The use of racial stereotyping is destructive to American society on two fronts: First it connotes to the majority population of America that the negative actions of a few minorities sum up the the collective values of the whole minority community. For example, in urban America to be a mugger is synonymous with being African America or Hispanic. As a result of media images, the immediate image we accept, as norm is that of whites being mugged by blacks and Hispanics” (Gray 1996).

The media and textbooks today function as mediums of social reproduction. They continue to produce the same images of Black people, and the negative images of the past are passed down from generation to generation.

One of the earliest historians out of Europe, Hegel, once said that Africa was a place devoid of its own history, all its greatness is a result of European involvement (Hegel 99).

Today, no one would ever openly say this out loud. however, when one looks at the way history is taught in schools, the ways in which black people are depicted in movies, novels, spoken of by scholars, they begin to see echoes of this past statement.

To another context, the advancements in technology have allowed more people access to other forms of history. The cultures where history has been passed down orally now have a way to document their stories. Where those stories may have been lost because they were not written, they can now be spread and included in world history.

“Save the desktop typewriter and medieval codex, observers and scholars argue that each innovation offered more people access to information, producing examinations and critiques on contemporary political, cultural and social institutions” (Rommel-Ruiz 2006).

This means that many African cultures can have their stories be revealed to the rest of the world. Tales and stories are not the only way that history can now be transmitted. Many cultures also told their stories through song and art.

“Technology allows acoustical cultures to tell their ‘histories’ alongside those based on print. In the process, a new approach to narrating history has emerged, potentially emancipating us from using terms such as marginal”
(Rommel Ruiz 2006).

There may be hope to change the discourse of history especially the dominant thought that history has to be printed text..

Part 4-Conclusion and Insight

This topic is very important to me, I believe that the challenge we face today within the African American community is one of “cultural identity”.

“It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.” (W.E.B. Du Bois)

This is still a social reality today for many African Americans. It is an ideology of which certain institutions and practices are justified and others are rejected. It also provides the phrases through which demands are raised, criticism made, and exhortations delivered, that even the word “African” has come to be associated with degradation.

When looking at black ambivalence towards Africa in the era of total white dominance, in particular the uncertainty as to what name would best describe us, one realizes more than ever before the primacy of the hegemonic class as a determinate of consciousness.

And even sadder is the reality that our children have come to associate the word “Africa” to degradation. We must teach the story of black accomplishment in Africa and in Ameirca alongside the teaching of European history. The story of Black America is a rich and varied one, sometimes it’s a tragic story, but most often it is one of many triumphs and victories.

As we ascend forward into this new period in time, I am still perplexed by the lack of correct information that is available to our youth. This much needed exposure to their history will strengthen them and give them a healthy perception of who they are, raise the bar of educational excellence, and heighten their self esteem.

“I was not an American, I was by long education and continual compulsion and daily reminder, a colored man in a white world, and that world often existed primarily, so far as I was concerned, to see with sleepless vigilance that I was kept within bounds. All this made me limited in physical movement and provincial in thought and dream” (W.E.B. DuBois)

We will never build a nation of confident, independent thinkers if our children are taught only negatives about their culture, and a over abundance of European culture on a daily basis. I believe what we need at this time is a revolution of new thought, against racism, myths and superstition, to wage a much needed battle against educational oppression.

“The Brown decision promised that every child, regardless of the color of his or her skin, would have unequivocal access to quality education and an equal opportunity to pursue his or her dreams. regardless of the color of his or her skin, would have unequivocal access to quality education and an equal opportunity to pursue his or her dreams.” (Ed Markey)

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About Darlene Dancy

Darlene Dancy is the owner of Affordable and Historical Art. Darlene's goal is to educate, motivate and empower people of African descent to learn the rich history of African culture - past & present. Discover Black History written, researched and preserved by African American Scholars. Lectures, Documentaries & Auto Biographies on DVD's and Historical Black Print/Poster art

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