“Black history” seems like profanity these days. The sound of it causes politicians, parent groups, and random social media commentators to rise up with vitriol. They do not pounce immediately; they stand watch, making sure that a Black history education stops at “I Have a Dream.” Anything more is an offense. To whom? To them. Why? I could speculate any number of reasons but I will reduce it to what many have already said: there is something in our history that is so egregious that their children must be sheltered from it. And there is something so powerful in our history that our children cannot have access to it.

When it comes to race and racism, there is a familiar refrain among teachers of young children: “The kids are just too young to learn about these things.” Although I hear this as a cop-out, it makes sense at face value. Children are not born with prejudice. We see memes across social media showing a Black child and a white child hugging and most will hold that image as #goals. One logic says that if we never teach them about race or racism, then they will not learn it and the unity in that image will last. 

Based on my experience, I cannot speak about the white child, but I can speak confidently about the Black child. That child likely already knows about race and racism. They may not have the vocabulary, but they have received the messages from the adults in their lives. Their families may have given them a list of instructions before going into a store to guard against the dire consequences of innocent childish behaviors for Black children. They may have seen their communities celebrating Black history to instill pride in their children. They also may have experienced a harsh tone from a teacher or childcare worker that others did not experience. They also may be one of the Black children who, according to the National Institutes of Health, is already subject to disparities in school discipline in preschool. The Black child knows racism.

This leads me to wonder…if young children are too young and innocent to learn about race and racism in school, then how is a Black child old enough to experience it everywhere?

Our public discourse has turned the teaching of Black history into the teaching of racism. This is simply wrong. Black history is U.S. history. We’re here. We’ve been here. And our presence has brought out the worst and the best in this country. It’s written in the historical record. It’s written in our blood. These truths may offend certain sensibilities, and perhaps it should. Discomfort is not an enemy. It is our responsibility to put as much energy into helping white children to face the truth of their history and learn from it as we put into mandating that Black children dismiss or forget their truth.