The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Wednesday January 19th

Column: Appreciating African diaspora in history education

<p>Junior statistics and analytics major and opinion writer Asad Yusuf. Photo courtesy of Asad Yusuf.&nbsp;</p>
Buy Photos

Junior statistics and analytics major and opinion writer Asad Yusuf. Photo courtesy of Asad Yusuf. 

I wonder what comes to mind when people hear the phrase, “Black History Month." 

Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, the Greensboro sit-ins or the March on Washington? Or some combination of all of the above (and other events commonly associated with Black emancipation)? Of course, everyone perceives the month in their own unique way depending on their background, experiences and sense of self-identity. 

For many, I presume, it’s a way to honor the accomplishments of Black Americans throughout U.S. history. For others, it’s a month to celebrate the significant events and people within the ongoing legacy of the African diaspora. 

Regardless of your personal interpretation of the month and what it means, it’s well known as an annual celebration devoted to recognizing Black history. However, as I grow older and move away from the required readings and rediscover my own sense of curiosity, I just wish I was required less and encouraged more before it was too late.

It’s probably naïve to think we would get history lessons in our primary education about Malcolm X and his ruthlessly blunt depiction of race relations, or about Huey Newton and Bobby Seale’s conception of the Black Panther Party. How could school officials and administrators let these controversial names slip into our lesson plans and become household names? 

I distinctly remember clawing tooth and nail to get through a dense section on the origins and consequences of the Panic of 1837, but somehow managed to devour "The Autobiography of Malcolm X" in a matter of hours. It was surreal to learn about a man that risked his livelihood in pursuit of racial justice based on a set of larger-than-life principles. Surely, countless other social activists like him exist in the American historical record. 

I think great American activist and historian Howard Zinn said it best: “What really matters are the countless small actions of unknown people who lay the roots for those great moments that ultimately enter the historical record.” But that record can become profoundly obscure if it’s refined through layers of directed dogma and politicized propaganda.

And this filtration process happens on all levels at varying speeds and alacrity. A direct example is the “defund the police” slogan and the overall broader movement. 

The actual substantive meaning behind “defund the police," if communicated properly, is a reasonable and attractive program that the majority of people and police support. It essentially says, remove from the police responsibilities they shouldn’t have in the first place. I think we can all agree incidents like drug overdoses, domestic disputes or mental health issues don’t require police force and should be handled instead by community services under municipal control.

The next logical step, as activists and politicians like Julián Castro and Bernie Sanders tried to emphasize, is to actually increase police salaries and improve their working conditions. But, like most other significant public matters that invoke thorny issues originating from racial inequities, the core message behind a simple, rational idea was buried under even simpler, false claims.

As much as I love this country and appreciate this month as a healthy celebration of Black achievement, it can be hard to celebrate given America’s hideous legacy of structural racism spanning 400 years of vicious repression.

And as much as I love UNC and being a Tar Heel, it’s extremely annoying to think that Lil Baby was able to drop two mixtapes and HBO could produce the final season of "Game of Thrones" in the span of time it took UNC to (not really) get rid of a bronze statue. (And in my opinion, the issue still isn’t even fully resolved). 

I’ll never know what was discussed during all those board meetings between the BOG, the BOT and interim commissioner this and vice chairman that. It’s easy to feel hopeless or enraged when you hear old white people talk about having to find “additional legal clarity” before making an obvious decision on a simple issue. 

Yes, I know there are precedent, legal statutes and constitutional provisions and blah blah blah. But even so, like leading American jurist and legal scholar Richard Posner once framed, “A case is just a dispute. The first thing you do is ask yourself — forget about the law — what is a sensible resolution of this dispute?” 

I actually don’t think banding together and calling on the chancellor to resign is a step in the right direction. I see it as sort of like filing a motion to impeach and starting unnecessary paperwork when there are larger matters at hand.

These are tough problems without any clear, identifiable solutions. But how can we ask those in charge to make better decisions if we don’t even know what’s being said?

I’m not sure, but I’m going to refer to Zinn once more:

“We don’t have to engage in grand, heroic actions to participate in the process of change. Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.”


To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.


The Daily Tar Heel for December 1, 2021

Special Print Edition

Games & Horoscopes

Print Edition Games Archive