“Don’t Steal These” Changing how black people are treated in America requires us to embrace black history in all its power

Dont Steal These Full
National Museum of African American History and Culture, Washington DC
The true connections linking black people in America are not chains, but prized experiences of resilience.

The typical American curriculum, historically, teaches on the topic of black people in America through the lens of slavery and the civil rights movement. These are important parts of our history but they are not exhaustive. As Malcolm X said, “Our history did not begin in chains.” Yet, most black history timelines start with slavery. This creates schemas and fuels biases—both implicit and explicit—that normalize the idea of black people remaining in chains. This normalization continues through the disproportionate representation of black people in our criminal justice system today.

However, the true connections linking black people in America are not chains, but prized experiences of resilience. How would we see black people and their history differently if our classrooms taught about the strategic and tactful leadership of Queen Nzinga? Or the riches of Mansa Musa? More currently, what could change if we all learned about the Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and her contributions to medicine? Or the story of America’s youngest African-American millionaire—Sarah Rector—at twelve years-old? We could ask the same questions for other people of color whose histories are also not completely taught in classrooms.

It makes one wonder if we all learned different parts of black history, and celebrated it, what impact could that have on how black people are seen in America? Or how we see ourselves?

When history is told only through the lens of slavery, we simultaneously desensitize our country to the historical pain of black people and reinforce the image of us being deserving of subservience. Black people have a history that is inspiring, motivating, and encouraging. It should be revered as such. But until that history is fully told, we will be seen as a threat, instead of what we actually are: our ancestor’s wildest dreams.