When I first set out to write this article, I wanted to show the world what it’s like to be a black teen. A lot of the articles or videos I’ve seen about the black experience are from an adult’s point of view. They reflect what happened to them. I’m surprised that more people my age aren’t speaking out about how they feel about being black in America today, and people I go to school with don’t have much of an opinion on it.
I realized this after watching The Black Power Mixtape from 1967-1975, which was about the black power movement in America during 1967-1975. It included footage of Martin Luther King Jr., Angela Davis, Bobby Seale, and other activists, and commentary from celebrities such as Erykah Badu, Danny Glover, and many others. I went to school the next day and told my friends about how informative it was and how it inspired me to learn more about Black History.
No one even batted an eye. I was especially surprised at my black friends. They didn’t even care! I was so confused. Why wouldn’t people want to know what race relations in our country were like less than fifty years ago? Why weren’t they interested in our history? After that, I decided to change to see what my peers actually knew about black history and ask why they’re so uninterested.
To explore this issue, I interviewed seven black peers at my school. These are some of the questions that I asked:
•What does being black mean to you?
•Do you think the education system in America highlights black history enough?
•Have you heard of the Black Panther Party?
•Do you like being black?
After conducting the interviews, I noticed a few trends among the answers given. First, everyone at some point in the interview talked about their parents or older family members. One participant said being black meant having the same heritage as his family. Black teens look to their elders for guidance within the community. Knowing their history inspires them to create a better life for themselves the same way their family did. This is why it’s important for us younger people to learn about our history so we’re inspired to advocate for a change.
The people I spoke to said they learned what they know about black history in school. But they believed they weren’t learning enough, especially during February. Personally, I haven’t been taught enough (if any) black history during my four years at my school. All we’ve learned about in my social studies and history classes is US government, the civil war (with little emphasis on slavery and the of role black people), and the economy. These are all important topics to know, but would it hurt to include a few classes on black history during black history month? In my school’s news program February was advertised as “Heart Health Month”. That’s kind of ridiculous!
I asked my peers if they felt the black history they had learned was watered down in any way. They all said yes, and I agree. One participant said “I know Martin Luther King! He did a lot. I don’t really know what, but he did some stuff.” Half of the people I interviewed didn’t know about the Black Panther Party.
One interviewee only knew about it because of Beyoncé’s half time performance! No one knew who Stokely Carmichael, Angela Davis, or Huey P. Newton were. In one interview I asked a classmate which black figure or celebrity inspires him the most and he said Babe Ruth. Babe Ruth is WHITE! Clearly we need to improve the curriculum and bring Black History Month back to the schools.
The most disturbing fact I learned was that my peers aren’t even interested in learning more. Out of the seven people I interviewed, four of them said they wouldn’t go out of their way to learn more about black history. “No because my education should teach me […] My education should do it for me.” This wasn’t actually that surprising to me.
Everyone said that on a scale of one to ten, they would rate their knowledge about black history as a seven to nine. Based on the information I learned from my interviews, seven to nine is a stretch. But that’s teenagers for you, we think we know everything! With that being said, it’s disappointing to hear that they wouldn’t take the initiative to learn more about our history.
It seems a bit like they are taking what they have today for granted! They don’t want to take the time to see how we would have been treated fifty years ago or how our ancestors sacrificed their lives so we could have greater opportunities in America. I wish people my age could see the importance of being aware of how life was for black people back then compared to today.
At the end of the day, it is us young people who have to stand up and make a change just like our elders did. There are so many young activists fighting to change the way people of color are treated in today’s society. But there are even more young black people sitting around, waiting for the change to come from someone else. We cannot continue to watch our brothers and sisters being killed and not take a stand.
Watching the news and getting a little upset about what we see isn’t going to change anything. We have to rise up and demand the change we deserve. America is a country where the people who are in positions to make a change do not. We’ve been stuck in an oppressed bubble because they don’t see the problem in our people being killed in the streets that others have fought to protect.
Martin Luther King Jr. was not shot and killed so that fifty years later, teenagers would sit on their phones oblivious to the struggle our ancestors lived through. There is so much more to blackness in America than what meets the white eye. We are strong, and we’ve fought for hundreds of years to have our voices heard from every corner of the country.
We are beautiful, and full of hope for tomorrow. We young people hold the future in our hands, we can’t crush it with our blindness. We have to open our history books, and open our eyes to what’s happening around us. Issues like police brutality and segregation, are still problems that we face today just as they did back then.
Let’s not turn a blind eye to those people in our community who are still suffering unfairly. Yes, we have iPhones and hover boards, but if we don’t have fairness and equality does it really matter? I challenge people my age to learn their history and become an advocate for uplifting the black community. That doesn’t necessarily mean marching in the streets and rioting. In our own way let’s speak out and stand up.