Rewriting history

Since class ended, I have been further questioning the best way to teach high school students about the history of women of color. As we realized today, it is difficult to write histories that simply are not there. The fact that a class of educated people interested in women and race can only name a handful of inspirational women of color is appalling and reflects a serious failure of our education system.

While anthologies like “An Intellectual History of Black Women” are a positive step towards a more inclusive history, they are not the only step or (I would argue) the best step to take towards educating young people on the positive contributions women of color have made to society. This is because highly intellectual language is elitist and reflects the academic standards of white, upper middle class men. I reject the notion that intellectual rigorous work is the only way to make information valid. The stories of women are important to share through any medium at any level of academia. While anthologies like this do fit the needs of college and graduate school students, efforts to incorporate these stories in all levels of academia is essential.

For example, in my high school English literature class we read Their Eyes Were Watching God. From what I remember, we discussed Zora Neale Hurston’s literary techniques but not how her identity as a black woman and life in the American south informed her work and necessitated the political commentary that the book presents. In fact, my teacher did not even bring up the political undertones of the novel. What could have been a productive conversation about the history of women of color was missed. There is space to discuss women of color and their histories outside of history classes and all teachers should be encouraged to explore opportunities to educate students on the history of women of color in their area of expertise. Intellectual histories of black women are one small and privileged piece in making the histories of women of color known. A holistic approach with a focus on repetition and accessibility (i.e., age-appropriateness) is essential.

In conclusion, it is important to interrogate when and how the stories of women of color are told, however, the lack of information on women of color is a reminder to us all of the importance of preserving the narratives of women of color. Some of us want to grow and join the academy. We would do well to remember that it is essential to gather intellectual knowledge on the lives of women of color, as well as include the work of women of color intellectuals in anthologies and never exclude people on the basis of identity.

One thought on “Rewriting history

  1. Sometimes I get really dejected over the overwhelming whiteness of American history and how the dominant narrative just repeats the the same story/stories over and over. This happened again with Jill Lepore’s lecture on Thursday. That event was so problematic in so many ways…but more on that in class. Remind me if I forget!


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