Why do we devote only one month to Black history? DeSantis, pop your head out of the Florida sand

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis
The author thinks the Florida governor is wrong about critical race theory.

Lookout columnist Claudia Sternbach feels cheated. February is more than half over and she doesn’t feel she — or the rest of the public — has learned much new about Black history. “Perhaps we should flip the tables and devote 11 months of the year learning about how Black Americans were treated and what many achieved despite the odds which were and still are stacked against them,” she writes. She also has some choice words for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, whose State of the Union rebuttal appalled her. “Huckabee Sanders seems terrified children will learn the actual facts of our past, whether it be about race or the LGBTQ+ movement,” she says.

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Claudia Sternbach

Is anyone else a bit embarrassed that we devote one month, February, as Black History Month? Only one month?

The shortest month of the year? And BHM has to share the month with holidays such as Groundhog Day (Feb. 2), Valentine’s Day (Feb. 14), Abe Lincoln’s birthday (Feb. 12), Random Acts of Kindness Day (Feb. 17) and, rounding out the month, George Washington’s birthday (Feb. 22). Days when we celebrate a rodent searching for his shadow, buying cards and flowers to show our love, two dead white presidents and being kind. And then of course we also had that unofficial holiday, the Super Bowl.

Just how many days are left to explore Black history? A history that is not just about Black Americans, but about how their accomplishments were received and acknowledged by white America.

As we close out the month of February, I wonder just how much we accomplished when it comes to teaching the history and contributions of Black Americans. I’m not sure I feel all that much smarter.

It feels as if we are trying to play catch-up.

Perhaps we should flip the tables and devote 11 months of the year learning about how Black Americans were treated and what many achieved despite the odds which were and still are stacked against them.

We have a lot of catching up to do.

I spent the first 18 years of my life living in Oakland. I was accustomed to riding the city bus with people of all colors. Moving to Santa Cruz, I soon realized we had a paucity of Black citizens. A sad lack of diversity. Even today, the numbers are so pitifully small, 1.5%. One might think — given this small ratio — there would be little support for digging in and examining our history when it comes to Black history.

Instead, we live in a community that wants to do better. Even (finally) the Santa Cruz surfing community — too often thought of as exclusively white and mostly male — is seeing a welcome shift with Black Surf Santa Cruz, founded by Santa Cruz resident Esabella Bonner in 2020. We also look to Kayiita Johnson and the organization of surfers called Black.Surfers, which is bringing attention to the sport and encouraging diversity on the waves.

The topic of inclusiveness on the water will be explored Friday evening at the Museum of Art & History. This is progress, however small.

On Friday, the Museum of Art & History hosts an in-person discussion on how far surf culture has come in the realm of...

In our nation, we have been reluctant to actually look at our past honestly and confront it. It is an ugly wound that has been festering for centuries. It can heal only if we bring it out and excise it like a cancer. It will be painful, but what other option do we have?

But for the first time in my life, I at least feel as if we might be willing to delve into our country’s actual history and begin to look back with a much more accurate lens. As challenging as it might be.

Critical race theory has been in the spotlight for some time now and institutions of higher learning are developing curriculum for teaching. This has caused some conservatives to get their underpants in a bunch. Some of them seem to think that this will open the door to children as young as elementary age being taught to feel shame over our country’s past. This is not the case.

But in Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis would have voters believe otherwise. He is prohibiting higher education institutions from using any funding, regardless of source, to support CRT and diversity, equity and inclusion.

Way to bury your head in the white sands of Florida, Ron.

But, to start, I didn’t let his decisions get me down.

There are 49 more states in the US of A and, I figured, surely Florida would be the only one to draw such a line in that Florida sand.

Boy was I wrong.

We now know Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders is determined to keep Arkansas in the dark ages when it comes to education. In her rebuttal to the State of the Union address on Feb. 7, she promised to ban critical race theory and the use of the term Latinx. She also wants to create a law in Arkansas similar to Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which bans instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade.

And there’s her statement that drove me most up the wall: “I’m the first woman to lead my state, and he [Joe Biden] is the first man to surrender his presidency to a woke mob that can’t even tell you what a woman is,” Huckabee Sanders told her TV audience.

Though she did not clarify her statement, I assume she means that the “woke” left acknowledges that there are several aspects of human sexuality to be recognized and respected while the “sleeping” right would like to stick with the old formula, two sexes determined only by genitalia. End of discussion.

When touting her education plans, she stated, “We will educate, not indoctrinate, our kids, and put students on a path to success.”

And that education will not include anything to do with the truth about human sexuality and the reality of the spectrum people find themselves on. Huckabee Sanders seems terrified children will learn the actual facts of our past, whether it be about race or the LGBTQ+ movement.

Yes, the history of the United States is complicated.

It should be fully explored and taught in schools. Children, if given the proper tools, will learn how to face the truth and learn from it. Adults will as well. There are terrible, dark places in our history. But in shedding light on them and exposing them, we can begin to heal.

No child should be made to feel guilty for our past. That is a ridiculous notion. Taught properly, we can look back and learn to do much better. We can clarify so much that remains shrouded in darkness. We teach our children that if they do wrong, telling a lie about it, covering it up, it will only make it worse.

And yet, we have been telling lies by omitting the truth of our country’s past.

Yesterday, I was driving past the Aptos library, which is under construction, and I thought about the children in Arkansas and what their library shelves will be missing. How many books, because of their subject matter, will be banned from the local libraries?

I thought about Florida and the backward-thinking governor of that state and his fear of truth telling. He and Huckabee Sanders make a delightful pair.

And I was grateful to know that here in our community, we are not marching in the streets promoting banning books. That, as imperfect as we are, we are moving forward when it comes to educating our young and not attempting to take our true history, dig a deep hole and bury it for some future generation to deal with.

Claudia Sternbach is the author of three memoirs. Her most recent is “Dear Goldie Hawn, Dear Leonard Cohen” (Paper Angel Press), which also includes stories about her sisters. Her previous piece for Lookout, about gun control and Alec Baldwin, ran in January.

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