“Hey, old man, how can you stand to think that way? Did you really think about it before you made the rules?”
“The Way it Is” — Bruce Hornsby and the Range
Every February a new cultural controversy pops up to show us why Black History Month is needed.
A hot-button topic this year has been Gov. Ron DeSantis’s threat to ban the African American Advanced Placement (A.P.) curriculum from Florida classrooms after state education officials there said it violates a state law that regulates how race is discussed in public schools.
The College Board, which is the nonprofit organization that develops and administers standardized tests and curricula to measure college readiness, including A.P. courses and exams, released an updated framework of an African American Studies class last week that removed many of the authors and topics DeSantis deemed inappropriate.
Social media had been flooded with thousands of posts condemning the Sunshine State for raining on the rights of Black folks. But before my fellow North Carolinians start pointing self-righteous fingers at DeSantis, a minute of serious self-reflection is in order.
With the hostile takeover of pop culture by social media, the term “shadow banning” has been added to the American lexicon. It refers to a stealth technique of censorship that companies such as Twitter use to make content nearly impossible to find on social media feeds.
So, technically, the content isn’t banned, it’s just hidden from sight. Such is the case with Black cultural expression in the Tar Heel State. Much like systematic racism, the shadow banning of Black culture does not pack the punch of blatant, in-your-face-bigotry, but the pain from being marginalized remains the same.
For other ethnic groups, the expression of cultural pride culminates into more than a few parades each year and shout-outs to key figures in history. For everyone except African Americans, cultural pride translates into public policy.
Unfortunately, Black History Month is a symbol without substance. After an explosion of congratulatory Twitter posts from corporations, many of which have unfriendly hiring practices when it comes to Black job applicants, the attention quickly shifts to more important events like Groundhog Day and the Super Bowl.
Historically, there has been a fear of Black people learning to read. Not too long ago teaching Black people how to read was a crime punishable by a severe beating or death. One can look to Wilmington native David Walker, whose 1829 pamphlet, “Appeal” caused such an uproar that southern states such as North Carolina passed laws that made it illegal to teach enslaved Black people to read. According to historians, the Georgia legislature was so opposed to Black people learning to read that it put a bounty on Walker’s head. He mysteriously died in 1830, two months after the third edition of the pamphlet was published.
No one is being tarred and feathered these days for reading “The Autobiography of Malcolm X,” but the legacy of anti-literacy legislation is still ingrained in Tar Heel politics.
For decades, there have been efforts to make the teaching of Black history mandatory in North Carolina’s public schools. Even as late as 2021, there was a failed attempt by African American politicians and activists to have Black History added to the Holocaust Education Bill which did become law. The ongoing attacks on Black studies in this state under the guise of “anti-wokeism” rival anything DeSantis is doing in Florida.
It must be noted that the “shadow banning” of Black culture goes beyond the educational system. It can be seen in anti-gun violence legislation in cities that are struggling with gun violence that disproportionately affects young African American males.
Politicians rarely put Black cultural awareness on the table when it comes to developing public policy around the issue. Their anemic solutions to stopping Black blood from being spilled on city streets every night have not yielded results.
There is evidence that Black pride movements have had a positive influence on Black men, yet such movements are never mentioned. We pretend that the Marcus Garvey Movement, Black Power Era and Million Man March never happened.
Despite bureaucratic, benign neglect, there are grassroots efforts to spread cultural knowledge in marginalized Black neighborhoods. One such effort is Durham’s first free Black bookstore, which I founded, “Bull City Griot,” to distribute books in predominantly Black neighborhoods suffering from gun violence and cultural exclusion.
However, to stop shadow banning, it’s going to take a lot more people getting involved. We need African American parents to continue to push for African-centered education in public schools. We also need anti-violence activists to make sure that African-centered solutions are placed on the agenda anytime there are discussions to create public policy around gun violence.
We face a mighty challenge as we celebrate Black History Month 2023. Are we going to buck the status quo and stop the “shadow banning” of African American culture? Or, are we going to cave in and accept Bruce Hornsby’s pronouncement in 1986 that, “That’s just the way it is, some things will never change?” The choice is ours.
Paul Scott is a minister and activist in Durham NC. He recently started Bull City Griot, a free Black cultural book giveaway operation. For more information contact (919) 972-8305 or [email protected]