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This Florida professor says teaching Black history is about joy, not shame

 USF Professor of Africana Studies and Anthropology, Cheryl Rodriguez
Cheryl Rodriguez
USF Professor of Africana Studies and Anthropology, Cheryl Rodriguez

Teaching Black history is a way to eliminate the shame that existed in the segregation era, when a broader silence about Black people's achievements left many with doubts about their own potential, says Cheryl Rodriguez, a professor of Africana studies and anthropology at the University of South Florida.

"I was born during the era of segregation and just on the cusp of the beginning of the Civil Rights movement. So that is something that informs me as a teacher. It's not something that makes me sad, or that is a source of anger. Rather, it is a source of knowledge and empowerment.

"One of the tragedies of that era, the Jim Crow era was the invisibility of knowledge about Black people suffering and triumphs. When there was silence, about slavery, when there was silence about racial segregation, there was also shame and pain and embarrassment associated with our history.

"I'm not a historian, but history is the foundation of my research and teaching. So for example, when I teach about race, my students learn the history of race science, and the ways in which different groups of people are categorized were categorized historically, and the ways in which the science of human beings has developed and grown so that we understand that race is a socially constructed concept, not a biological concept.

"When thinking about the importance of teaching Black history, I often quote James Baldwin, who wrote a lot about history and its importance in our lives. And he wrote something like this. He says: 'The tale of how we suffer, how we are delighted and how we may triumph, is never new, but it must be heard.'

"Baldwin also said that this history is the only light we've got in all this darkness. So the birth and development of Black studies was really a powerful source that allowed people to study our history, to study our culture without shame.

"Students love this knowledge. Students are hungry for this knowledge. And I teach every ethnic group on campus, many, many students take my classes. And there is not a day that passes that I don't get an email or a call from students saying, 'thank you.'

"I think that today when we see Black people celebrating and joyful, I think it is just that we have grown in our knowledge of who we are. And when you hear Sheryl Lee Ralph, singing 'Lift Every Voice and Sing' in the Super Bowl recently, you heard someone celebrating.

"We have not only survived but thrived as a people. And I hope that students will be inspired to continue to grow in our knowledge of the Black experience."

Copyright 2023 WUSF 89.7. To see more, visit WUSF 89.7.

Kerry Sheridan is a reporter and co-host of All Things Considered at WUSF Public Media.