CoastLine: Black History Month II - How Treatment of History Informs Current Cultural Conversation

Jun 5, 2015

This broadcast of CoastLine originally aired on February 25, 2015. 

It’s the last week of Black History Month in 2015. 

Although the celebration is 89 years old and some (famously, Morgan Freeman) question the need for a separate month, local African history experts say that need is as strong as ever.

On this edition of CoastLine:  it’s Part Two of our exploration of Black History Month in 21st century North Carolina. 

If you tuned in last week, you heard Todd McFadden, Director of UNCW’s Upperman African-American Cultural Center explain why any discussion of African history inevitably brings up contemporary racial issues. 

After the mics went off last week and the show was over, nobody left the studio.  An impassioned conversation, which included Senior Pastor Henry Gregory of St. Andrew AME Zion Church and UNCW’s Todd McFadden, continued for another 40 minutes. 

While it’s not uncommon to continue chatting with guests after the show, the intensity of the discussion was a clear indication that there was a great deal more to this topic than we were able to cover in one hour.

Joining us in-studio to continue that conversation: 

Todd McFadden is the Director of UNCW’s Upperman African American Cultural Center.

Jamir Jumoke is Program Manager of Hometown Hires through the United Way of the Cape Fear Area.

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In a well-known study, Researchers Kenneth and Mamie Clark examined racial perceptions in very young children by asking them to choose whether white or black dolls were “better” or “prettier”.  The results showed that both white and black children develop racial prejudices earlier than anyone realized.  The video-taped experiments also illustrated the deep-seated feelings of racial inferiority in black children as young as three. 

That study was one of the arguments leading the Supreme Court to rule in 1954 that racial segregation in public schools is unconstitutional. 

More than 60 years later, Jamir Jumoke, Program Manager for Hometown Hires at the United Way, says the enduring marginalization of Black History in the school system can have a similar effect on a child’s psyche. 

"We have to make sure that, in addition to raising the black consciousness, we also have to raise the white consciousness.  Because what happens is – the same way we get our self-perceptions of our culture and our people from our history, the same thing happens to people outside of our culture and outside of our race. 

"And when you hear repetitive information that comes from a colonial standpoint that makes us seem inferior, then what happens is that people outside of our culture and our race begin to accept the status quo and it allows them to rationalize racism and mistreatment."

Todd McFadden, Director of UNCW’s Upperman African American Cultural Center, agrees that so much of Black History is still heavily focused on slavery.

"And our history doesn’t begin at slavery, of course.  It begins long before that.  Most people aren’t aware of the great breadth of civilizations that occurred in years that would be B.C.E. – Before the Common Era – which most people know as B.C.  But there were several very sizable and long-lived civilizations that existed long before, I think, most people are aware that those kinds of things would have been around."

UNCW’s McFadden says one reason for the competing narratives of African History goes back to the most basic of human struggles:  power and money.