Contrary to some beliefs, Black History Month isn’t just an American concept, but South Africans also celebrate it in the month of February.
In America it is due to Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass’ birthdays but in South Africa it is held in February because this is the month when Nelson Mandela was released from prison after 27 years, on February 11th.
During this month of February, what would be great to zone in on in our homes is raising awareness about issues of racism, poverty, drug abuse, war, women’s rights, workers’ rights, and unemployment in the black community with our children.
A lot of black history is erased at school level and much of our reality as black people has been sanitised in order to sound and feel palatable.
It is our duty as parents to teach our children and educate them about where they come from and the legacy they come out of. With children, teenagers and young people becoming more and more similar world over, we need to get them interested in their history and the best way we found to do it is through music and books in our home. From there on we then start conversations.
Here are some ways we can teach our children about their history:
1. Learn more about black history yourself
The more we learn, the more researched we are, the easier it is for us to teach. Children learn via seeing and in practice and not just what you tell them. You need to have an interest in also learning and answering their questions without being dismissive, no matter how uncomfortable the question is.
2. Zone in locally
My earliest memory of my parents teaching us about our history, was our visit to the local apartheid museum, Red Location – the first settled black township of Port Elizabeth – when we lived in Port Elizabeth and our visits to the Hector Pieterson Museum when we moved to Gauteng.
3. Watch movies about black history and/or the black experience during family movie night. This can be a tricky one because our history can be very gruesome and traumatic. So look for age appropriate and ones that won’t overly traumatise your children. Remember, we want to teach our children to move forward and not for them to harbour anger.
Here are some links to suggestions:
4. Black History should be acknowledged all year round in our homes
Putting off educating your children about black history can get to a point where you’ve put it off for so long, that it gets harder and harder explaining the complexity. Incorporating black history into their everyday is super important and cannot only be limited to the one month a year.
5. History isn’t always roses and sunshine
Learning our history isn’t easy. It isn’t always palatable. Learning that my mom had to live majority of her life estranged from some family purely based on how they look was not easy. And it absolutely sucked to know that in my everyday life I’d have to still deal with prejudices, stereotypes and biases. But in order to try steer our futures away from oppression, we must know where it stems from.
6. Black history is not one dimensional.
Unlike African Americans, South Africa is unique because it’s a place where we’ve had the most sustained period of white supremacy and though black people remain a majority, we are still a “political, social and economic minority”. These dynamics need to be explained to children. The harm that oppression has and that though our experiences may differ, the fight against white supremacy is a multinational one. It is a system we all need to fight against.
7. Jim Crow Laws vs Apartheid and connecting Africans and Africans in the diaspora.
We must teach our children that there are Africans around the world that moved from Africa to become citizens in America, or Europe etc. and there are Africans in the diaspora who were born there as descendants of slaves. Much like the “Dreamers”, diaspora-born black people don’t know any other home but are still connected to their African ancestors through history. And the hard fact is that events in Africa, such as apartheid, tend to mirror US (and other global) injustices, like Jim Crow laws, but we all stand to learn from each another.
These injustices can’t ever be undone, but they can be taught so they’re never repeated.
8. Start creating a paper trail of ancestry.
Growing up, our family was split across the country and my parents and grandparents would share the stories of how they were all scattered and split according to what they looked like and whether the comb would pass through the hair. It was all so bizarre. My parents tried their best in later years to introduce us to every part of our family. My mom came from a lineage of German and Xhosa. Some of her aunts and uncle looked more white and identified as such. Some identified as coloured and some identified as black. They were all scattered according to the apartheid laws of those times. It’s hard explaining these dynamics to my children who are in class with kids that are different shades to them but one of the things I’d love to do is trace back and get started with our family tree whilst my parents are alive and my maternal grandfather is still well and alive.
9. The impact of black leaders in our history.
During this month, teach your kids that leaders come in different shades, but their ethnicity does not limit their reach and their impact. Focus on impact and the changes they effected. A big one here for the young ones is focusing on speeches that changed the world and music that impacted a particular time in history.
10. Teach children what racism is.
No day goes past without someone invalidating the impact of racism and claiming that racism doesn’t exist. It is important to teach our little ones about the impact of racism and that racism is someone treating them different because of their ethnicity.
11. Emphasise the importance of diversity.
I’m a firm believer in the notion that: “You don’t know what you don’t know.” Diversity drives innovation and inspires creativity. When we have diverse spaces, they are more culturally sensitive and inclusive, they offer better insights and knowledge and people thrive.
12. Read, Discuss & Donate some books about diversity to your child’s school/classroom.
This is a nice way to get more inclusive content into our children’s spaces and not leave the onus on the schooling system to solely be in charge.
13. Listen to eBooks or podcasts that are around Black History in the car or in the home.
This is a great time to have amazing and engaging conversations with your children. They are so much more engaged in the car to what’s playing on the radio. They take it in and then ask questions later or as the questions and inquisitions come to them.