“It is important to discuss race when teaching history because it is always a factor in our society,” stated Ty’ler Banks, a Berkeley International High School (BIHS) senior. Banks emphasized that each person has their own experiences that form their unique perspective. Because race inevitably shapes the way people see the world, it also determines the stereotypes people project onto those around them. Seeing only one side of the complicated story of racial history is an issue that has seeped into the education system. Often, just a single narrative is taught around Black history — one that only teaches Black struggles, failing to recount Black empowerment alongside it.
Race has played a prominent role in the development of humanity as a whole. “Because racism is so ingrained within our society, it sometimes can be hard today to understand what, how, and when exactly it shows up in our lives,” said Spencer Pritchard, who teaches African American (AFAM) History at Berkeley High School (BHS). “That is why we must study incidents, issues, people, [and] historical phenomena from a critical race lens. That is why we must reflect on how we think and interact with each other,” Pritchard continued.
In curriculums, it is easy for all of the history of one race to be lumped together, while the rest is disregarded, causing one event to represent all facets of a single branch of history. Banks pointed out that it is important to not only have an accurate scope of history as a whole, but to also teach history from different perspectives.
Only teaching about Black struggles in school can sometimes embed in students’ minds that being Black only about the challenges they face. It shapes the narrative that the Black community only has struggles, rather than acknowledging that all people, regardless of race, have both struggles and successes. According to Banks, teaching Black empowerment is important because it humanizes others and their histories, which allows people to see one another as equals.
Additionally, by categorizing all people from a certain race into a single stereotype, education curriculums risk diminishing who each individual is as a person. “There’s no single type of Black person. We don’t all have the same struggles, nor do we all have the same successes. However, it is important to show both sides, so negative connotations can’t be created by non Black people,” said Banks, reiterating the importance of teaching Black empowerment alongside Black struggle.
Cora Leighton, co-chair of the Department of Arts and Cultural Studies at Berkeley City College (BCC), agreed with Banks. Leighton emphasized, “The Black experience is not singular.” Teaching students that every Black person has the same perspective or experience can result in an inaccurate representation of Black history. Over time, rather than teaching students to dismantle racist hierarchies in American society, the idea of racial advantage is strengthened, and students are incentivized to keep it that way.
Banks added, “I also think it is important [to teach empowerment along with struggle] for Black students especially … because, too many times, the education system has failed Black students in encouragement. … [When] the same sob stories are told, then they are being taught that the only way out is through the entertainment business.” She concluded, “Black students need to be taught that their dreams are unlimited; they can be successful in other ways, and a good start is in education and school.” She, along with Leighton, said that by teaching empowerment in the classroom, students of color understand that they have power, and that they are no less than any other student. Banks explained that teaching empowerment not only humanizes people, but also allows students to reject racism in society.
“Although Black people are still oppressed in our society today, that does not mean our lives are defined by it,” emphasized Pritchard. “As a people, even within horrendous circumstances, we can find joy, build community, and keep our dignity. To not teach empowerment would be to neglect most of who we are as a people. … You can’t teach Black history without talking about Black Power too.”