Black History Month exposes inequality

BY RIPPLES —

Since February has been proclaimed Black History Month, the editors of Ripples believe it is a public institution’s job to properly educate its students on African American culture, and especially format the curriculum to emphasize this cultural aspect of our nation during its celebratory 29-day span. However, the high school did little of the sort.

We did not discuss African American happenings in class; February was seemingly no different from any other month. We all attended the Black History Month program in the auditorium on February 24, but then went back to our classes, filled with predominantly white students and teachers, and did not discuss African American life further.

One of our editors later attended the Black History Month program’s follow-up conversation during lunch on March 9, which had been advertised as an open forum for all students to talk about the production’s impacts. However, the editor was the only non-African American to attend. And she’s not even fully Caucasian. 100% of students in attendance were minorities, when only 31% of the student body actually is.

There are very few opportunities for the residents of our school to learn about black culture, even during the celebratory month created to emphasize it. However, even when these opportunities did arise, our student body failed to appreciate them.

The lack of appreciation is everywhere. Only a slim fraction of our textbooks actually discuss African American history; the rest celebrates white achievement. But this lack of an emphasis on cultural knowledge does not stop with textbooks: it begins with teacher heritage. Looking at the SHS staff, the number of African American employees does not succeed single digits. And a very, very slim proportion work as classroom teachers.

How are we supposed to learn about other cultures when there is no one to teach it, no one who has actually experienced it? This is not an intentional prevention of cultural exchange, but as Jordan Terry, senior, said, “If the people teaching you are Shorewood alum or from Whitefish Bay, what they can only teach you are their experiences, when there are more realities.”

This teaching gap leads to an educational gap. Our students learn about white culture, and African Americans are expected to mold the knowledge from their upbringing into a new one. Everything we as students are expected to learn outside of school, additionally, is formatted around white, upper-middle class knowledge.

“When I applied to college, I didn’t know you could get money from schools. I thought it all came from FAFSA … I didn’t understand the importance of getting good grades and my parents didn’t know because they didn’t go to [a four-year] college,” Terry said.

Even now, no one on our editorial board is black. We admit that as a paper, we cannot ever truly speak about African American culture with complete understanding. In other clubs, students of color are few to none, and white students, as the students at the Black History Month production meeting said, hardly work to welcome them. There is a difference in upbringing and culture, and it is important to embrace it. Ignoring this fact, according to Terry, “is a form of racism and is a form of ignorance. In reality race determines so much: the jobs that we get … and things like that.”

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(Sydney Widell) Students dance to Beyonce’s “Formation” at the Black History Month poetry slam. Outside of this performance, Shorewood did not discuss race.

We need to correct the problem of segregation. For the most part, black and white students separate themselves at lunch, in the classroom and within clubs.

This can be fixed by adjusting curriculums: let’s talk about black history, as it is and has been a prevalent part of our society. Classes could discuss contemporary issues with race, incorporating current controversies such as that of Ferguson or Dontre Hamilton, learning about racism today. This could be added into the future journalism class, lifetime or social studies curriculums.

Clubs should focus on African American issues, addressing their culture. For example, while feminism matters covers very important topics that we as editors and Terry, support, it could expand its topics to focus more on black women’s rights, which are different than a white woman’s.

We could also hire African American teachers, and bring in black speakers to classrooms and homerooms. Our white teachers constantly tell us stories about their past, their childhood, that white people can relate to. It’s time black students get this as well, and that white students are exposed to a culture they do not receive enough exposure to. Instead of obtaining our slim education of black history from white teachers, it could be coming from a living source with real experience.

Even during Black History Month, there was not proper talk about non-white races, and our current system is formatted unequally around the learning habits of Caucasians. We need to adjust our curriculum properly: cultural knowledge leads to cultural understanding, and with this, we can start to develop the truly worldly view that Shorewood strives for.

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