American history is largely taught through the lens of white people’s experiences. Michael Harriot is a columnist at theGrio.com, where he covers the intersection of race, politics and culture. He joins host Krys Boyd to discuss a new way to look at historical narratives – one that reworks the American story to include the voices most often overlooked. His book is “Black AF History: The Un-Whitewashed Story of America.”
How the history books dehumanize Black and Indigenous peoples
By Shaunessy Renker, Think Intern
Many of us may have experienced learning about the Founding Fathers for entire units of our history classes in public school and seeing only small text boxes devoted to historical events about Black or Indigenous people.
Thanks to his family’s overflowing library, Michael Harriot’s experience was quite different. He was raised on stories about the formation and history of America that many of us never learned about.
“One of the themes of my book is that history can’t be objective,” Harriot says. “What is described to us as ‘American history’ is really just white history.”
The different European explorers and colonizers are often specified as being either English, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Dutch, etc. In Texas public education, a history class will spend an entire unit on figures like Sam Houston alone. But the Africans forcibly removed from their homes are never described by their nations or cultures and Indigenous peoples are never differentiated by tribe, leaving their stories overlooked and their voices unheard.
Placing all these ethnic and racial groups under one umbrella minimizes their experiences, persecution, contributions, and prevalence in history. The lack of cultural, religious, and linguistic information about African people in the history books dehumanizes them.
“It robs them not just of their individualism, but of their humanity,” Harriot says.
Painting Black and Indigenous peoples as an “amorphous silhouette,” as Harriot describes it, results in the erasure of a significant part of our history. This leaves students improperly educated and blind to the truths behind our nation. More specifically, Black and Indigenous students are left unaware of the real, un-whitewashed history behind their identities.