Dr. Beverly Tatum has written several powerful books on race and ethnicity. Her National Bestseller Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?: And Other Conversations About Race, eloquently addresses the psychology of racism and racial identity. I recently had the privilege of hearing Dr. Tatum speak at a local University. She presented an illustration that I will never forgot.
There were approximately 50 of us crowded into a small conference room and Dr. Tatum sat on the stage in front of us, a picture of regality. She described a hypothetical, but familiar scenario. She asked the audience to image standing on the stage with her for a group picture to commemorate the time together. She described a photographer using a polaroid camera to take the group picture. The room was silent as everyone quietly envisioned getting up on stage with the poised Dr. Tatum and taking a group picture together. She asked the audience what would happen after the picture printed from the polaroid camera and was passed around the room. Instinctively everyone knew the same thing. The first thing you would do is search for yourself in the picture.
She asked us to imagine how we would feel if, to our surprise, we were not in the picture at all. Dr. Tatum went on to describe a scenario where a group of people take a picture together, but upon examination you discover that you have been erased from the photo. The spot where you stood is empty.
I always remembered that analogy. I especially think of it when asked why we celebrate Black History Month. African Americans often do not see themselves, their stories, their impact, and their contributions told in history unless it is in the context of their enslavement. African Americans have contributed richly to the development of our country in medicine, science, music, sports and more. Yet, when we go back and look at the polaroid picture that history tells, we often find ourselves missing.
The contributions of African Americans should be shared and integrated into the everyday curriculum and teaching of history. February is a month that not only acknowledges the contributions of African Americans but also concedes the need for a collective “selah moment.” Selah means pause, think about it. We must recognize the need for Black History Month is birthed from scarcity of representation. The impact and influence of African Americans should not need to be “photoshopped” back into the picture, an addendum to our taught history. Pause, think about it.
As our schools, churches, and communities become increasingly diverse, this is a great opportunity for parents to share with children the beauty and diversity that God has created. Diversity extends past different skin color, but also diverse thoughts, ideas, creativity, skills, assets, and accomplishments of African Americans. We are all fearfully and wonderfully made, and we all bare the image of our Creator. This makes it possible and probable that diversity is reflected in our history and the building and establishing of American culture and traditions. Cherishing and celebrating these things is a way of celebrating the beauty and creativity of our God.