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The Controversy around Black History

By Pitre, Abul; Ray, Ruth | The Western Journal of Black Studies, Fall 2002 | Go to article overview

The Controversy around Black History


Pitre, Abul, Ray, Ruth, The Western Journal of Black Studies


When Carter G. Woodson declared Negro History Week in 1926, a controversy began that would continue into the twenty-first century. Woodson's Negro History Week was a major step in the process of eradicating many of the problems that confront African Americans as a result of the institution of slavery. Some of those problems include a lack of meaningful education, self-knowledge, and self-esteem. The idea of Black History has stirred controversy since its inception and continues to be an important issue in the educational arena. Opponents of Black History have argued that its implementation into the curriculum will be dishonest, divisive, and will make children ill prepared for the work force. Proponents of Black History believe that it will promote cultural diversity, develop self-esteem, and correct many of the myths espoused by the Euro-centric centered curriculum. Carter G. Woodson was confronted with many of the current arguments that attempt to keep Black History out of the curriculum. It is important to note that the terms Black History and Afrocent-ricity are used synonymously in this article. The definition of each term has Africa at the center of shaping ideas and both are interested in people of African descent in America.

Over the years, Negro History Week has evolved into Black History Month, which was signed into law by President Jimmy Carter (Sesay, 1996). Prior to Carter signing Black History Month into law, student protest in the 1960s involved issues with regard to Black Studies. Presently, the controversy around Black History continues to be a problem that confronts American institutions, in particular, public education institutions.

Seltzer, Frazier, and Rick (1996) note that some conservative scholars have argued that Black History and multicultural education result in dishonesty, with little academic credibility. Mattia (1992) states the following regarding the multicultural education movement which some believe encompasses Black History,

... attempts to introduce multiculturalism into the curriculum appear to be political responses to infuse the American educational curriculum with multiculturalism largely partisan activities engaging only those few who are committed to effecting significant educational and societal changes. Thus, after almost two decades of curricular engineering, a great deal of suspicion regarding the multicultural education movement exists among African American, Latinos, and Native Americans, many of whom presently raise serious questions about what the movement has done and/or failed to do for them (Mattai, 1992, 65).

Others in opposition of multicultural education and, in particular, Afrocentricity, believe that such implementation into the current curriculum will "make Europe and the U.S. rogue elephants of the world history" (Bennett, 1992). According to Bennett, Afrocentrists will assert that North American culture is an offshoot of Western European philosophy and that both are offshoots of African culture. This argument is best seen in the debate between the scholars Bernal and Lefkowitz (Bernal & Lefkowitz, 1996).

Lefkowitz, in her book, Not Out of Africa: How Afrocentrism Became an Excuse To Teach Myth as History, asserts that "Afrocentric mythologies of the ancient world appear to have been created," and they are simply mythologies rather than history (Lefkowitz, 1996). Teaching fiction is harmful according Lefkowitz, who stated "suppose we allow one particular group to rewrite history to its own specification, and suppose that we judge the groups' ultimate aims to be laudable" (1996), Lefkowitz's primary assertion is that Afrocentricity or Black History has been contrived by some African American scholars in their attempt to rewrite history.

Another argument against the implementation of Black History is that it causes divisiveness and that students will lack basic work skills if they concentrate on this subject.

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