History has always been one of those subjects that I didn’t like, and only recently have I started to question why this is. Is it that I don’t care about history, or do I just not like the way that it has been taught? I find it highly unlikely that I don’t care about history because it is something that permeates every subject of learning. History is just things that happened in the past, and all the knowledge we have today is built off of those things, so why is it that I haven’t enjoyed the subject itself?
I am taking Humanities this semester to fulfill the gen ed requirement, and to be completely honest I haven’t enjoyed it. The course felt like another one of my high school history classes. I have never attempted to discern why I did not enjoy the subject, but Professor Adams’ lecture got me thinking about it. Her lecture was short, but impactful. I can’t believe I never recognized myself how dehumanizing the word slave is. There were millions and millions of African Americans that were enslaved in history, but why does that mean we need to refer to these people purely as slaves? We talk so much about how horrible slavery was, but barely learn about the enslaved African Americans side of the story. Earlier in this course during a lecture lead by Professor Smith we read a poem titled “Zong! #1.” This poem, especially the audio version, struck me. While there were no actual words it was able to convey more to me about the hardships of being a slave than 12 years of schooling ever did. I find this immensely disappointing. I think the prominent reason I have not enjoyed history is because I have only ever learned about it from one perspective instead of the perspective of everyone involved. Just because I live in America doesn’t mean I only want to learn about America’s history. There’s so much that can be gained from learning about the history of other cultures and peoples, yet K-12 education seems to focus largely, if not completely, on either American or European history. I have always questioned this, but never thought it the source of my displeasure with the subject. This is why I was upset that my Humanities course was more of the same. During the course we learned mainly about colonization and decolonization, but only really focused on the perspective of the colonizers instead of those being colonized. While I did appreciate how discussion driven the course was, I often found myself frustrated by (at least in my opinion) pointless arguments. For example, during one of the lectures we had a long conversation about which author of two books we had read is more racist. I am still astounded that I had to sit through this discussion, because why does it matter which was more racist if they were both racist? Any level of racism should not be tolerated. It was discussions like these that made me frustrated and dispassionate about this course.
The education on history that I have personally received makes me think of a concept that was fleshed out in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novel, Americanah. In Americanah and also in her TED talk Adichie introduces the concept of the “single-story” which is when someone is taught only one perspective on something and lead to believe that this perspective is the only one that is true. Adichie gives the example in her TED talk about Africa, and how the single-story that Americans are taught is one of poverty. Through her novel Americanah Adichie proves this not to be true through Ifemelu and Obinze, the main characters of the story. Ifemelu is a Nigerian woman who immigrated to America and built a successful life for herself (like Adichie). While there are people in Africa who live in poverty (as there are in America as well) that doesn’t mean they are all living in poverty. I don’t want to spoil the novel because I recommend it be read, but Obinze’s story exemplifies how the “single-story” can be harmful. Adichie further explains the harm that the single-story causes in her TED talk. She says, “The consequence of the single-story is this: it robs people of dignity. It makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult; it emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar.”
I think that Steve Prince’s art has been a fantastic avenue for me to learn more about other perspectives of history that I have not learned about in my history classes. All of his art is the opposite of a “single-story.” His pieces are so rich with history and varying perspectives that it’s impossible to only pick out one as the “single-story.” I have appreciated this throughout this course and intend on exposing myself to more art and literature similar to both Prince’s and Adichie’s. I wish that I had not been taught history through “single-stories” and had instead learned about a myriad of perspectives, but it is in my hands now to educate myself on the varying stories that exist.