Cultural Competence

On Teaching Christopher Columbus

I came into the world of education as a teacher seven years ago. I taught social studies; primarily U.S. and world history. I taught in Camden, New Jersey. The majority of my students were Black and Latino. One of the things I prided myself on was teaching students the truth about history and how that truth shaped their present circumstances. This was my mission every day, however I took special pleasure to do so on holidays.

I taught the history of Christmas, New Years, All Souls Day—All Hallows Eve (Halloween), Thanksgiving and Easter. I also taught the history of St. Patrick’s Day, Independence Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day and Juneteenth. The most fun was always Presidents Day and Columbus Day because as a person of color, I can see the dishonor in each of them and I had the academic license to expose the fraudulent nature of these dedicated days. Because I served a number of students from Latin America, it was always fun to teach the truth about Christopher Columbus. My students knew that Columbus wasn’t the hero he was posited to be. However, they didn’t have the evidence to back up their claims. My job was to give them the tools to argue down anyone wearing a cape for Christopher Columbus. When teaching on the truth of Columbus, there were a number of online articles that I used to wet their appetite. The main course was made up of lessons that had their foundation in the research of John Henrik Clark and Joel Augustus Rogers.

These men have been vital to my journey to preach truth to my kids. Along the way, others scholars have found their way to my tent door. One such scholar is Ivan Van Sertima, who gave me more tools to peak my kids’ curiosity. For example, In reading Sertima’s work, I unearthed to my students that while having a conversation with Portuguese King, Don Juan, Christopher Columbus learned from the king that Africans had already traveled to the New World. Boats were found starting from the west coast of Africa that traveled west to the New World with merchandise. Columbus’ second voyage, a trip to Espanola (modern day Hispaniola), confirmed Don Juan’s revelation. The indigenous gave proof of the African expeditions by providing spears topped with a metal called gua-nin – that they received from “black” people. Guanin is the name given to a metal alloy found with high gold content found in West Africa. Columbus sent samples back to Europe when it was found that the metal was a mixture of gold, silver and copper. Columbus’ third voyage, to the South American coast, the indigenous gave to him handkerchiefs woven and colored like those brought from West Africa; they resembled West African headdresses and loincloths.

Christopher Columbus didn’t discover North America. He didn’t discover anything. In fact, he thought he traveled East when he was West. He was looking for the Chinese and Indians when he found Tainos and Arawaks… whom he enslaved, raped and massacred. There will be a lot of think pieces on Columbus this coming Columbus Day. I encourage you to read them and give them to your children to read. But if you want to dig deeper; if you want to go beyond what the curriculum recommends… if you want to empower Black and Brown children with the knowledge of who they are, where they come from and what this world is, here are three books that you should yourself read (if you haven't already) and share with your students in the form of empowering lessons to open up their sensibilities:

  1. Africa’s Gift to America – Joel Augustus Rogers
  2. Christopher Columbus and the Afrikan Holocaust – John Henrik Clark
  3. They Came Before Columbus: Africans in Ancient America – Ivan Van Sertima

These three books have been powerful tools to teach, reach and disciple my kids over the years. You may not be a history teacher. But I do believe that there is information for any teacher to give to their students. I guarantee that you will find use from these texts. There will be items that you may not be able to use – to that I say, chew the meat and spit the bones. But do yourself a favor; give it a taste. If you'd like to get some materials to teach on the truth of Columbus Day – EMAIL ME AT urbanedmixtape@gmail.com. I will get those materials to you asap!

Let’s continue to press towards the mark!

 

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