#Next20: American History 101 for Black History Month.
Hear from Dr. Khalil Gibran Muhammad on the importance of studying Black history to dismantle the systemic racism we are facing today.
“What our students ought to be learning, and the opportunity that is in front of us right now that we can opt to choose to teach them, is that there is no American history without Black people’s contributions to it,” said Dr. Khalil Gibran Muhammad, Professor of History, Race and Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School.
As February continues as a month-long celebration of Black History, we revisit our #Next20 with Dr. Muhmmad, also an acclaimed author who focuses on the intersections of race, democracy, inequality and criminal justice in modern U.S. history to gain insight into what Black history implies for American history.
History as a blueprint for an equitable future
Last summer, when David Hubbard, Vice President of Legal and Public Policy at Verizon interviewed Khalil, he started by asking, “How did we get here?” to which Khalil launched into an in-depth conversation about how racism has systematically and institutionally affected Black people.
“What we have here are systems of racism that were built intentionally a long time ago,” said Khalil. “They have been the focus of reform and attention time and time again. They have been durable, and they have evolved. They’re not the same, they don’t look the same. And so, the conversation today is as much about understanding how these systems were built as they are giving us a blueprint and the possibility for dismantling them.”
Understanding these systems give us a foundation for understanding the disparities that affect Black people then and now and ultimately guide us for how we move forward. When history glazes over the truth or leaves it out altogether, there is a cascading effect that impacts how we govern, legislate and lead.
According to Khalil, we can honor Black history by having honest conversations that address the ongoing racial disparities in areas like the distribution of wealth, our definition of talent, as well as access to education and equitable resources. For example, the Fair Housing Act was signed into law in 1968, but today’s Black-White homeownership gap is greater than when housing discrimination was legal. With homeownership as a stabilizing force in communities and a critical step in wealth-building, systemic racism prevents people of color from attaining a significant financial asset and generating intergenerational wealth.
February and beyond should not be reduced to a surface celebration of Black achievement, but should include the rooted history that impacts Black people to this day. As we continue celebrating Black lives, Black culture, and Black history, honor it not for its symbolic convenience but for the truth on which it stands.
Want more? Listen to Part 2 of American History 101
After listening and then re-listening to the conversation between David and Khalil, one thing is certain — you can’t cover more than 400 years of American history in 30 or 60 minutes. Given the importance of the topic and how it supports our ongoing dialog on racial justice, we didn’t want to pare the discussion down for those who want to learn more.
Check out Part 2 on our Up To Speed podcast as Khalil dives deeper into:
- The differences between the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Lives Matter movement
- The complicated history of America’s founding fathers and the story behind the confederacy
- How to disrupt implicit bias in America’s classrooms
- Why he says that understanding U.S. history is “lifesaving”
- And the specific actions that individuals and businesses can take to create an antiracist society
And here’s Part 1 if you want to re-listen on the go!