We have just returned from my son’s school where tonight was the Black History Month celebration. The children sang sweet songs by an African American educator and folksinger, then charged around the school to look at different Black History Month projects, and wound up the evening with some African dancing and drumming. It was an exciting night for the littlest students since it was one of their first-ever school performances, the projects the students worked on were impressive and the dancing by the older students and the professionals was spectacular.
Like a lot of schools in the MPS system, our school is a mix of races and ethnicities, though it is probably predominantly white. Our own family is an interracial family and there are several others like ours at the school. There are also Arab families, Hispanic, Black and Asian families. Naturally, I thought it was wonderful that all these children and all these families were paying respect to African and African American culture. I also hope the leaders at our school, and others where children are doing this sort of thing, take time to process some of the more…interesting aspects of the evening.
It appeared that everyone who taught the songs and dances the children performed tonight were white. Other performers were African American but the people who appeared to actually teach the lessons of Black History were white. I had this thought: it is great that we are all joining together to celebrate Black History in the U.S. and African musical and dance traditions. It is incredible that there are children of so many races and ethnicities singing these songs and doing these dances. It is wonderful that classrooms are decorated with Kente cloths and Batik. And this: I hope all these white people can share their appreciation for Black History, and other experiences within U.S. culture, beyond the month of February.
As you know if you looked at my photo on the main blog page, I’m white and have been white my whole life. Stlll, as a member of an interracial family, I am constantly learning important lessons about what it means to be white. Such as the fact that it’s easy, when you are part of the majority culture, to forget that others don’t share your experience. But we are all living in a United States that is the grand culmination of the Immigrant Experience, the Slave Experience, the Refugee Experience, etc. We simply cannot take it for granted that kids will understand the enormous cultural shift that leads white people to feel strongly and positively enough about African dance to learn it well enough to share it. It isn’t time yet to act as if that isn’t remarkable. I hope, especially in cities like Milwaukee where segregation (whether self-imposed or institutional) isn’t over yet, that we all continue to marvel at the beauty of what everyone brings to the table and share it throughout the year.