Why African history is important too

Photo by Suad Kamardeen on Unsplash

So, now that Valentine’s Day is over, people are beginning to remember the other big thing that happens in February. It’s Black History Month! Except, not exactly. It’s more like “Black History: 1619 to Present Day” Month. What happened before the first black people were brought to America seems to be a mystery to most Americans.

However, an understanding of African history is fundamental to a proper education in this country. Even if most black Americans don’t identify as Africans anymore, like most white Americans don’t identify as European, any population of people should have a basic understanding of their history and where their ancestry lies.

Growing up, we were all taught European history. We learned about the kings, the wars, the art and the literature. European culture and philosophy was gradually drilled into our heads over time. However, by the time we graduated from high school, we only knew about the history of a segment of our population. There are more than just white people here! And black people have a great deal to do with the history of this country and where it is today. For goodness sake, all the minorities including myself wouldn’t be here right now if it wasn’t for the civil rights movement that gave us our rights and incentives to live here.

If European history is treated as an important social class in the education system, so should African history. However, most children are taught history in a way that makes it seem like black history began with slavery. It did not. There are thousands of years of history in Africa that, surprisingly to most, resemble European history. There were kingdoms, rulers, systems of commerce, culture, art and scientific advances. Because of our dismal education system, most people see Africa as a place that has always been ridden with poverty and suffering. It is actually a beautiful place with a rich culture and history.

In fact, African merchants began trading with China and Arabia before Europe. Africa also began independently utilising iron around 5,000 years ago. Advanced civilizations included the Axum Empire of present day Ethiopia and Eritrea, which served as one of four international powers including Persia, Rome and China. The Kingdom of Ghana was known for its large army and efficient methods of of taxation, holding monopolies over gold mines.

While most students have a relative knowledge on the British Empire, the French Colonial Empire, the Ancient Roman empire, etc., very few would name the empires listed above off the top of their heads if they were asked to list great civilizations/empires in history.

If my parents hadn’t educated me on Islamic history, American schools would have had me thinking my history began with 9/11. What respect would I have had for my history if that was where I was conditioned to think it began? The truth is, history plays a huge role in how we identify ourselves. The whole reason history is taught is so we can understand where we come from and how to move forward. How are minorities to move forward if we grow up thinking we have never had power in this world?

Black history is more than slavery. It is more than a struggle for basic rights. Black history is powerful. It is inspirational, unique and beautiful. Let’s start treating African history as a social class just as important as European history; our children deserve the chance we never had to learn the truth about their past.