I completed my “report card” today for my kids. It always surprises me how much we actually accomplish. Not that it’s a huge amount, but that it does include many things I worry that we haven’t covered. In the case of the second semester, we did a lot with government (the Constitution, State Government, Elections) and our travel the United States project taught the kids about map reading, budgeting for their trip (they had to plan a six state nationwide tour with hotel costs, two sight seeing excursions and the distance and mode of travel). Other than math, however, it was harder to make a grade for them that made sense to a public school world. After all, aside from the rubric method – which is also subjective – it is almost impossible to make distinctions between an “A” job and a “b” job. So we’ll see.
We’re moving on to pre – Revolutionary America – after the pilgrims. I’d like to reinforce the slave trade in all its respects, including how some African countries initially benefited until the Europeans used their influence to subjugate and destroy the economies of these once grand kingdoms. It’s important to me that we as African Americans acknowledge that at one point, somebody earned something on our side as well, despite the obvious massive kidnappings and stealing of human beings. It reminds me that as a family of brothers and sisters we can never place riches above relationships, nor prosperity above people. Black history is full of bad decisions by both blacks and whites. The celebration perhaps should be called Black Heritage, because that speaks more of the spirit of the African American tradition, rather than overlooking the historical missteps we took in the 70’s and 80’s by trying to formalize our racial identity through victimization or glorification of the past at the expense of the present. The heritage of our forefathers was one of just as much individualism as collective will, and when we try to tie each individual accomplishment to a collective achievement, we run the risk of constantly reducing our advancement to a list of “firsts”, followed by a total disregard of the more important second, third, or fourth. In fact, many tend to pay more attention to the “first” to achieve a certain goal, then to the collective accomplishment of many others that achieved similar goals later, but are reduced to have followed those who “paved the way”. Are all roads exactly the same? Was each African American’s trials and issues made smoother in the same way? Or did each overcome different, perhaps more importantly, non-racial conditions to achieve greatness? And if those conditions were not based on racial bias, or lessened by some other person’s sacrifice, does that mean that the followers work was not as hard, or did not require similar, or perhaps greater internal sacrifice?
I realize the questions above are far-flung, but they are the kinds of questions I think face those of African American persuasion today. I find it similar to the biblical mandate that “the teacher is not above the student.” Our collective accomplishment is fully realized when each man is honored on his own merit, not necessarily the merits of others who came before, even if those before faced similar or even greater outward oppresion. One can not be held in contempt for a world that is easier for him if he did not create that world. Gratitude for those who came before us should be a natural inclination, yes, and taught to our children, but not worshipped on an altar of racial piety. Even Jesus said, “greater things than these (works i’ve done) shall ye do.” What greater works are we expecting of the next black generation? And what are we doing to encourage them that those works will be greater than Harriet Tubman, or Booker T., or DuBois? Unless we are careful not to deify the past, the future will always be a pale comparison.
Thanks for letting me ramble…. look unto the hills….