In teaching African American studies—specifically, content centered around the concept of Africa and the African diaspora, Dr. LaGarrett King of the Carter Center for K–12 Black history education at the University of Missouri, asserts that Black history did not begin with enslavement and that in order to understand Africa and its people, its descendants, we have to acknowledge and be open to exploring the similarities and differences of Black histories and cultures from a global perspective.
As defined by Dr. King in his article “Black History is Not American History,” Black historical consciousness is an effort to “understand, develop, and teach Black histories that recognize Black people’s humanity. It emphasizes pedagogical practices that seek to reimagine the legitimacy, selection, and interpretation of historical sources…It is to seek alternative principles that effectively explore Black people’s humanity and dismantle the white epistemic historical logic that has long dominated much of K-12 official social studies policy.”
Africa and the African diaspora as Black histories “stress that narratives of Black people should be contextualized within the African Diaspora.” Black people should not be viewed as a monolith; instead, they are part of a collection of communities that are descendants of Africans or from Africa. They also have rich histories that do not begin or end with European contact.
Setting the Context for Students
Read the poem below. As you read, pause to think about what you see. What imagery does it bring to mind? Take notice of how you feel as you read. What emotions does the poem evoke in you?
Now that you have read the poem, think about what connections you would make, either to yourself and your experiences (text to self), to another text that you have read (text to text), or to a broader theme or topic (text to world).
You have just analyzed “Mother Africa,” by Poetrist, from All Poetry. This poem symbolizes themes in the fourth Black historical consciousness principles: Africa and the African diaspora. The poem reveals the beauty and history of the African continent and its people through several poetic devices such as rhyme and allusion. For example, “waving symbolic freedom fist” makes me think of Mandela and the anti-Apartheid movement and even the Black Power movement that took place in not only the United States but other areas of the world, like the Caribbean. So through reading the poem, we see these connections to African and African American history and culture, past and present.
Photo: iStock by Getty Images / African American Faces
Connecting Africa and the African Diaspora to the Classroom
In his article, Dr. King provides a series of questions that connect to the theme of Africa and the African Diaspora:
- What are the legacies of Black diaspora freedom movements?
- Are we all Africans?
- How did trans-Saharan trade lead to West African wealth and success?
- How did the Haitian Revolution influence American enslavement?
- How have African Americans / Black people drawn from their African heritage in civil rights struggles?
These questions can be used immediately in your classroom or can serve as models of ways that you can adapt the framing of your curriculum to teach through the lens of Africa and the African diaspora. You might think of other historic or current topics that you could connect to this theme to expand students’ understanding of African history beyond the stereotypes they typically experience, even in social studies classes. King, in his article, cites several different examples, such as including important African empires such as the Mali and Songhai, discussion of African explorers, and later developments such as Afro-Caribbean and Afro-Latin as well as anticolonial movements.
Photo: iStock by Getty Images / Afro-Caribbean Woman
There are several resources that align with the theme of Africa and the African diaspora. The Active Classroom lesson plan titled “Black Cultural Diversity: What Are Some Important Issues?” sets context for students and is a good starting point for discussion. In this lesson, students explore the history of Black culture in the United States and broader Western Hemisphere and its connection to various regions of Africa. The lesson plan also examines the impact of recent African immigration to the United States and the role that they play in cultural diffusion within Black culture.
In addition, there are several other resources you can explore, including primary sources, virtual museum exhibits, videos, and songs:
As you review the resources, consider how they can be used with students to ask or allow questions about Africa and the African diaspora. Which resources might help build students’ understanding of the theme? Which perspectives are included or not included?
By learning more about the critical framework of the Black historical consciousness principles, contemplating its application in your curriculum, and exploring a variety of thematic resources, teachers can create more culturally relevant curriculum and classrooms. In doing so, they will also help reshape their students’ perceptions of what constitutes Black history and empower them to imagine transformative futures.
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LaChardra McBride has been in education for the past 13 years and is currently a curriculum specialist in Houston. Responsibilities in her current role include authoring district social studies curriculum in Grade 6 World Cultural Studies, Grade 9 World Geography Studies, and African American Studies, developing and facilitating district-level professional development, as well as continuing instructional coaching duties. She has taught World Cultural Studies, Texas History, and United States History and has partnered with Active Classroom in various capacities for the past three years.
Samantha has been in education for the past 14 years and is currently an instructional coach and curriculum writer in Houston. She, alongside LaChardra, specializes in building their district’s ethnic studies curriculum and professional development for teachers. She taught United States History and AP* U.S. History in Houston for ten years. She also works with undergraduate pre-service social studies teachers teaching Social Studies Instructional Methods.