The importance of our collective history...

Updated: Nov 26, 2020

History fascinates me, because when we study history we’re studying the lives and culture of people who lived and moved and had their being in a specific time and place. It’s not just facts on a page, but real people. Like many children, growing up I often imagined myself in the stories I’d hear in history class or historical fiction I’d read. But even as a child, I knew I wouldn’t have the same experience as the American Girls I read about. As a bi-racial Native American, history is a little more complicated for me.

I grew up hearing how my Mawmaw refused to give up her seat on a bus and how a band of Lumbee outlaws from my tribe stole from the rich to feed the poor during the Civil War and Reconstruction, and when I was twelve my dad printed Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech and told me “This is important. You need to memorize this.” In school, I was taught the history of European settlers and, while that was also part of my history, I knew there were stories and facts I didn’t hear in school and that made me curious.

As an adult, I continue to be curious through reading and learning the varied stories and perspectives of the American experience outside of dominant culture. Relearning history is like an onion, for every layer I unfold and learn a new perspective and experience, there’s another layer underneath. I strongly believe part of the fight against racism comes in educating ourselves and our children on the different histories that make up the United States--from enslaved narratives to Japanese Americans in WWII to immigrants to the history of U.S. territories and more. As a mom against racism, I want to continue to learn the history of people and experiences I don’t know and to teach them to my children. We need the fuller picture of our collective history to move forward in understanding, empathy, and clarity.

“We believe the one who has the power. He is the one who gets to write the story. So when you study history, you must always ask yourself, Whose story am I missing? Whose voice was suppressed so that this voice could come forth? Once you have figured that out, you must find that story too. From there, you begin to get a clearer, yet still imperfect, picture.”

Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi

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