I have always loved books, and I was obsessed with fiction for most of my young life. And not the “good fiction” people who are book obsessed usually name like Tolkien or Mark Twain, I was a “Sweet Valley High” and “Babysitter Club” kid for a long time. Actually, my first chapter book, which I think is still at my mom’s, was “Charlotte’s Web,” and it was mesmerizing.
I say all that to say, early on I understood that the reading I enjoyed was not “school reading.” There was never a book I was assigned to read in school, even until high school, that I enjoyed. I am 41, so I can finally admit, I rarely read those books: I got cliff notes and hoped I could get a C on the test. To this day, I have never read ONE Shakespeare’s book, to kill a mockingbird, animal farm, or one jane Austen book. Anything that was labeled as a “traditional American novel” I didn’t read. I TRIED! I promise, but my soul just rejected them.
Wait, I did read “The Diary of Anne Frank.” I think that was one of the only school-assigned books I read.
Why, if I am an avid reader, did I not read or enjoy any of the books I was assigned in school?
I think the answer is my spirit knew that not only were these stories not about my people or me, but they were written by people who did not like and mistreated my people. The same goes for “World History.” My spirit rejected the stories of my oppressors, especially when the stories denied and/or ignored their active role in the oppression of Black folks throughout the world.
This “50s middle-class suburban America” never existed in my world. My people worked in their homes; watched their children; cleaned their houses; and were viciously attacked if they even attempted to interact with “regular Americans.” To me, “the Cleavers” (another show I have never watched); “the Brady Bunch” are all dangerous folks who would call the police and do everything they can to keep Black folks out of their communities, including violence and murder.
My spirit wouldn’t allow me to ignore who these people were in the books assigned in schools really were to Black folks. I learned to fake enough to pass a test or drop anecdotes in conversations, but I always knew this was part of my “racial passing” test.
To survive in America, Black folks must assimilate to White culture. Assimilation in America requires that Black folks ignore the truth about the oppressive, evil, and violent behavior of White folks for generations against my people, and instead embrace the narrative of “a nation of immigrants,” “Puritan work ethic,” “American exceptionalism,” and to blindly forgive all of America’s racial sins and consider them as only a small part of what this country was/is and its white citizens.
As a parent of school-age children, who are still required to “assimilate, and read the same stories about Western Civilization, and also write reports that they will be graded on,” that I was. My mother, my mother’s mother, and any “successful/assimilated” were required to assimilate.
That is why the work I do with BRONDIHOUSE is not my business; it is my calling. I need to stop this part of achieving the “American dream” that is basically asking Black children to live in a dream world, where their lived experiences and history don’t exist. I can’t stop the narratives taught in American schools, but I can teach my children “my truth.”
My children don’t need to know the story of “The Three Musketeers” or “Don Quixote” I need my Black kids to know that France and Spain enslaved millions of Africans, colonized and stole resources from many African countries. Black children need to know that while France was having “The French Revolution” for “liberty for all,” they owned slaves in America and colonies in Africa. And they were terrible, vicious, evil people. Black kids need to know that Napolean sent his brother to Haiti with flesh-eating dogs to kill the Africans fighting for freedom and then lied to Touissant Louveture and invited him to France, where he imprisoned him until he died.
The problem with fiction in American schools; is not that it is fictional stories about people and places; the problem is the fiction, collectively, omits the main connection between these fictional characters and places with the experiences of Black people.
My spirit, my ancestors, refused to allow me to romanticize, normalize, or internalize stories about people who did horrific things to them! I am so grateful that my spirit kept me strong enough to reject that propaganda that denied the oppression of my people. I probably would have gotten better grades and/or had been a better student if I had assimilated and accepted that the books they assigned me to read were “universal themes.” But the screams of my ancestors in my spirit were more powerful than the urge to be “academically successful.”
To my ancestors, you matter to me. Your stories matter to me. What they did to you, matters to me. I promise I won’t let them erase and/or revise history, no matter what the personal consequences are to me. I will never normalize/accept/or ignore, what they did, and/or are doing to us.