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Black History Month

Today is the start of February, during which Black History Month is celebrated. Not by everyone, as I am reminded from things I see at the perimeter of my Twitter or FB feed, though I am happy to say that nobody among my actual friends holds negative views of such an event. (Nor of March and Women's History Month, which gets less press.)

Many people in the kidlit business are aware of the We Need Diverse Books movement, which has touched on some of these things. If you've watched the news, you ought to be aware of the Black Lives Matter movement, which has done much to make people like myself (white and comfy in the burbs) aware of how very different life is for people of color in this country, particularly in urban areas. There was just a project started by Marley Dias, a bright young woman in my state of New Jersey, called #1000BlackGirlBooks. She was trying to find lots and lots of books with black female protagonists, and wasn't finding any at her school. (As sad as that is, and as amazing as it is that people came through with donations to make her dream a reality, I am startled and saddened to learn that purchasing one copy of every title people in the know could think of that met the criteria cost a mere $2500. That price bought ALL THE BLACK GIRL BOOKS. HOW ON EARTH IS THAT POSSIBLE?! YES, I'M YELLING ABOUT IT!)

I can recall being pleased that the school district where my kids went to school did much to include the history of minorities and women in their regular history classes, and proud of my older daughter for taking AP African American History, where she learned a lot more than just Civil Rights history, though that was largely the focus.

And this month, in the midst of a current political climate where bigotry is not only tolerated but celebrated in some circles, I am really thrilled to be reading the series in the Philadelphia Inquirer which was introduced yesterday by Sofiya Ballin in an article entitled Black history: Finding our deeper truths. Every day this month, the paper will include pieces featuring local African Americans talking about "What I Wish I Knew" about black history. Yesterday's introduction brought me to tears twice. First, with this part:

. . . And our genesis was always in bondage.

In high school, I saw the detrimental consequences of black students believing what their textbooks told them about themselves. That they, like the treatment of black history, were an elective.

And though my parents gave me an inkling and black history itself revealed it, what I didn't at first understand was that the knowledge I did have would be deemed a threat. I wasn't taught that I would be asked to hold the other half of the story between my teeth, so others could swaddle themselves in guiltless comfort and ignorance.

Because I'm pretty sure I've been the "beneficiary" of that comfort and ignorance for far too long. The second time I got misty-eyed was when reading this paragraph, which touches on one of the things that has always struck me as an inequity:

The Philadelphia author Lorene Cary said: "I was not taught how much energy and intelligence one expends throughout a blessedly long and fortunate lifetime to resist the lie of black inferiority. . . . I was not taught how men who had just fought for liberty could classify black people as less than human in the U.S. Constitution."

You can check this amazing series daily in the Philadelphia Inquirer, and online at philly.com/blackhistoryuntold.

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