As African Americans across the nation continue to celebrate Black History Month, social justice expert, attorney, and activist, Nkechi Taifa, warns that while remembering the achievements and relevance of Black people in history is always cause for celebration, we must also focus on keeping Black history from being erased.
Taifa says hysteric pushback from conservative mainstream society about Critical Race Theory (CRT), is affecting everyone’s access to Black history. CRT, taught primarily in higher education, is a means of understanding the impact systemic racism has on all aspects of society. Nine states (Idaho, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Arizona, and North Dakota) have passed legislation to ban the teaching of critical race theory in America’s classrooms. Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin won the state due to his campaign promise to ban CRT in classrooms. Specifically, anti-CRT legislation bans the discussion, training, and/or orientation that the U.S. is inherently racist as well as any classroom discussions about conscious and unconscious bias, privilege, discrimination, and oppression.
“However, history makes it impossible for anyone to ignore the fact that racism has affected every aspect of American society including (but not limited to) the criminal punishment system, educational system, labor, and housing markets, and the healthcare system. Blacks are incarcerated at disproportional rates to whites, and Black students still experience disparities in the educational system.
The result? “Books by and about Blacks are increasingly being banned across the United States because they reference the concept of CRT.” Taifa references many examples including a book by Newberry Book Award Winner, Jerry Craft, whose book “New Kid” references CRT. Several of his titles were banned by the Katy Independent School District in Texas.
“They even banned children’s books I authored decades ago that teach children about the Black experience — “Shining Legacy,” “The Adventures of Kojo and Ama” and “Three Tales of Wisdom” were banned by the Central York Pennsylvania School District in the spring and summer of 2020.
The books had been out of print for years. So Taifa decided to re-publish the books in defiance of the ban and for a new generation of children to enjoy and learn from.
“It appears that white conservative society does not want to hear about the ugly and insidious impact of racism in America or to have their children learn about it,” Taifa says. “Yet for more than 400 years, African Americans have not had the luxury of ignoring the devastating impact and disadvantages of living in a racist society, while whites have enjoyed a very different and privileged reality.”
“Black History should not and cannot be erased or banned,” she exclaims.
“Our incredible stories of triumph and rising above the odds is just as woven into the fabric of society as the racism. “One cannot accurately tell the story of the United States of America without also telling the truth about the systemic racism that persists today,” Taifa says. “The fact that we are even having to fight to keep books that chronicle the Black experience from being banned in the first place is proof that systemic racism still exists.”
Taifa encourages people to challenge the banning of books and what is perceived as CRT teaching in local schools and school districts and to continue to champion Black history. This is the debt we owe to not only Carter G. Woodson who created Negro History Week, the precursor to Black History Month, but also to the countless ancestors who struggled unceasingly for their humanity.
“If a race has no history,” Woodson once wrote, “if it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated.”
Nkechi Taifa is the author of three books for young people Shining Legacy, The Adventures of Kojo and Ama, and Three Tales of Wisdom. She is also the author of the best-seller memoir, Black Power, Black Lawyer: My Audacious Quest for Justice.