Illustration by Hana Ito

Mr. Milton: Black American History

Reading Time: 3 minutes

In a sentence, what is Black History Month?

Its intentions are positive; it’s to correct an incomplete storytelling of a country. 

Historiography is about how the more information we have, the better we understand the past. And so that study of historiography has got us to this point. To some degree, you have to recognize that there were—are—certain groups of people who suffered and were exploited for the “betterment” of [the United States].

Do most textbooks and history courses do their due diligence?

No, of course not. There’s a cursory level acknowledgment of [Black] representation in the history of this country. But I don’t think we spend a lot of time in-depth talking about their contributions. Instead, we “mention” slavery.

The AP U.S. History textbook that we use, the Enduring Vision, briefs the experiences of some demographics (e.g. Women, African Americans, Native Americans) in isolated segments. How does that play into how we learn U.S. history?

If it requires its own section; we’re not doing due diligence in weaving a mosaic of the history. If we were doing a good job of that, we wouldn’t have specific addendums for Black people or women. 

It could be argued that isolated segments are helpful because it maintains a focus on marginalized groups. What then? Which better reflects history?

Because we still have issues with gender and race, I agree, there is a need for [isolated segments]. But in a utopian world, if we didn’t have those gender and race issues, we wouldn’t be telling a story of different groups of people, just of America. 

You do need to carve out your segments. You need those crutches. 

What do the recent changes to the AP African American studies course suggest about Black history in American education?

Educators and curriculum directors decided that the initial draft of the course needed to include topics like Critical Race Theory and Black Lives Matter and others. But these things have subsequently been made optional. A lot of people believe this change was politically motivated. It’s dangerous when the government starts to override experts in certain fields. 

It’s going to create a larger divide political divide. Kids going to school in certain areas are going to get one version, whereas kids in different areas are getting another. And that decision is based on adults who are outside the field of education.

History changes, and evolved by chronology. It shouldn’t be dictated by your geographic location in the States.

When we study Black historical figures, should we recognize them as “Black,” or should we refrain from labeling a race, the same way we don’t ascribe “White” to most American historical figures?

I go through this with my wife all the time, when I’ll be watching the US women’s soccer team and I’ll say, “Abby Wambach, who’s one of the best women’s soccer players…,” and my wife points out that I specified “female.” It’s a really good point. They’re all soccer players. Can I not just say she’s one of the best U.S. soccer players?

So I ask myself, in terms of colorblindness: is there a chance or place where [true color blindness] will ever exist? Sure, I hope so. I think we should be talking about people without race—and maybe it’s optimistic—but it’s silly to mention someone’s race when discussing their qualifications. 

In the U.S., Black History Month is celebrated in February. In the U.K., it’s celebrated in October. Is there a key significance in celebrating American Black History as opposed to British Black History? How are they different?

I don’t know if I’m talking out of turn here, but if I were British, I wouldn’t want to be affiliated with the American celebration of Black History. That’s fair, given [the United States] longevity of slavery and Civil War / Reconstruction segregation. We’re talking about five decades ago. The history of Black people in those countries has a very different story. 

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