Black history from a white girl’s perspective

Anastasia Spytsya

I never believed that Black History Month was needed, just like Valentine’s Day, because such things need to be remembered every day a whole year round.

Yet, against my own will, I am writing a column about black history at the beginning of February because it’s the only time when the majority of people remember to take time to honor this part of American history.

Oftentimes, Kent State students are forced to take classes they don’t want to take. Even more often, we are given a chance to take a class that might change our lives, interests and worldviews. Two years ago I signed up for Black Experience, which I thought was going to be another LER. But it was one of those few classes you wish lasted forever because the knowledge you gained was priceless.

The other day I decided to read a 400-page American history book that is now used in public schools just for the heck of it. To say I was shocked to see one paragraph dedicated to Martin Luther King Jr. is to underestimate my level of indignation.

Today, students are taught the white interpretation of American history. Students, for some reason, are taught only about the events and people that make up the pretty story of American life. But there are also ugly stories in the history of this nation that every person should know. The darkest aspects of American history have often been hidden from plain view because of the past — or at least the power of the popularly perceived past — to shape the realities of our daily lives. Ignorance of our shared history sustains our parallel racial universes. Yet, the only way to understand the present social environment is to have a full knowledge of the past.

As a basic social institution, education has played a fundamental role in the growth and development of American culture and society. Traditionally, Americans have regarded education as a means for self and societal improvement. But American education presumes color blindness and, therefore, the invisibility of ethnic identity (let it be black, Chinese, etc.). The dynamics of the situation requires that whites give up their prejudicial attitudes and that blacks give up their identity. The reality of American education is supportive of the fact that it is aimed to establish the legitimacy of the values, ideals and interests of the dominant majority. This means the denigration of all other values, ideals and interests.

Just ask yourself: How much do you know about the black world? I bet a common stereotype came to your mind such as a guy in a gang with his pants pulled down who cannot speak proper English or a loud female. The fact is that black America knows about white America much more than white America knows about black America. If we want to live in harmony, we need to know about our fellows as much as they know about us.

And this must begin with proper education. Academic unwillingness to confront reality — especially an unpleasant reality — must change.

And we can start doing it at Kent State.

Our school is one of the very few schools in the country that has a well-developed black studies program that is also known as the Pan-African Studies department. It was created out of necessity to fulfill curriculum gaps. The department has a dual mission: academic and social. While the former is self-exploratory, the latter addresses the needs of the society.

I believe this is the most unusual department on campus. While the primary focus of it is to teach black history, its faculty managed to make the department multi-disciplinary. Each course is developed to help students understand philosophy, politics, psychology, economics and other disciplines to a larger degree.

There is a common misconception that the Pan-African Studies department is only for black students. But every single ethnicity is more than welcomed in the department. I have taken numerous classes within the department and had amazing experiences and made life-long friends.

There should only be one history: the American history. There should be no separation on the white and the black studies. Our education system, however, has forced the creation of black studies to catch up with what has been missed.

I thank George Garrison, a professor of Pan-African Studies department, for the help in writing this opinion.

Anastasia Spytsya is a senior Russian translation major and political science minor. Contact her at [email protected].