Like most white people, I never used to pay much attention to Black History Month. It wasn’t that I was opposed to the idea – I was all for it – I just didn’t feel it was any of my business. I spent far too much time learning about history and honestly didn’t see the point in focusing on one race in particular.

It never occurred to me that I already had.

Once I started really digging my teeth into history and anthropology in university, the history I thought I knew started to collapse around me. It wasn’t just that we bothered ourselves mainly with “our own” history, we’d thoroughly distorted our own history had become as a result. As growing numbers of nations and regions were left out of the story, it became more of a fairy tale or creation myth. It was as if Europan civilization had arisen in isolation, as an act of God or destiny.

It didn’t, though.

Ancient Greece began as the mines and mints which produced currency for the ancient world. Long before Plato and Aristotle came a wealth of purchased art, architecture and culture from places like Persia and Egypt. Black people are depicted often in Ancient Greek art. These patterns repeated themselves over the centuries with a vast number of mostly-forgotten influences, from Buddhists in the Dark Ages (some of the first “heretics”) brought by the silk road, to the eventual turn toward the Atlantic and “discovery” of the New World when the silk road collapsed (beginning of the Ming Dynasty and expulsion of the Mongols). Even the story of Columbus can’t really be told without without discussing the events which led up to it: Ferdinand and Isabella’s expulsion of “Moors” (Moroccans) from Spain. The colonization that followed relied almost entirely on African slave labour, following a tradition begun by the Romans around the time of Jesus. Europe was always a part of a far larger picture.

If ya don’t know black history, you don’t know white history, or much history for that matter.

Don’t take it from me. Educate yourself, no matter what your background. The following link leads to an African-American Studies Course from a major Ivy-League university(credible enough for ya?). Don’t try to watch it all at once, but do try to watch it. It covers the history of Africans in America from Slavery through to Obama. It does a good job of portraying the history and context of a lot of things you’ve probably heard referenced a thousand times, and while I don’t agree with everything the says, it’s honest and critical enough to destroy a lot of mainstream misconceptions about these issues. It also gives some very important insight into some of the most important examples of many topics I often discuss here. How can anybody talk of armed resistance without discussing the Back Panthers? How can one have an honest discussion about “urban renewal” without discussing the Harlem Renaissance?. Or raise issues with modern day “justice” systems without discussing black people in America, one of the world’s single largest incarcerated populations*?

AFAM 162: African American History: From Emancipation to the Present – Professor Jonathan Holloway (Yale Open Courses)

*To give some perspective, the number of black people in jail in America is comparable with the number of Chinese people in jail in China.

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