In teaching African American studies—specifically, content centered around the concept of Africa and the African diaspora, Dr. LaGarrett King of the Carter Center for K–12 Black history education at the University of Missouri, asserts that Black history did not begin with enslavement and that in order to understand Africa and its people, its descendants, we have to acknowledge and be open to exploring the similarities and differences of Black histories and cultures from a global perspective.
In his article “Black History Is Not American History,” which focuses on teaching Black history from a Black historical consciousness approach, Dr. LaGarrett King defines his second theme, Black agency, resistance ,and perseverance, as “Black histories that explain that although Black people have been victimized, they were not helpless victims.” This theme highlights ways that Black people have actively resisted oppression, both independently and collectively.
The study of Black history (and ethnic studies more broadly) is rooted in a critical consciousness. Cultivating a “critical consciousness” in teachers and students is important in the development and delivering of ethnic-studies-based course material and lessons. Critical consciousness can be defined as “the ability to recognize and analyze systems of inequality and the commitment to take action against these systems.”
According to Paulo Freire (author of Pedagogy of the Oppressed), developing such consciousness is “what allows people to act—or in this instance, teach—for the humanization of society.” The Black historical consciousness principles help both students and teachers develop a critical consciousness applied to Black history, past and present.