By Lamont O. Repollet
Black History Month is a time for celebration, rather than polarization. Carter G. Woodson, an author and scholar, began in 1926, as a commemoration of African Americans' often-overlooked contributions.
In doing so, he sought to enthuse "the Negro in history" and "the history of the world, void of national bias, race, hate, and religious prejudice."
Only through a broad spectrum of viewpoints and voices, we may have a history of free from bias. In order to succeed in this nation, there are numerous obstacles to overcome. The recent public uproar over Critical Race Theory and the prohibition of certain books across several states is a case in point.
Kimberle Crenshaw, one of the legal scholars who created the framework for Critical Race Theory, claims that it "is based on the assumption that race is socially constructed, yet it is real through social constructions."
Crenshaw and other scholars examine our society and history through a study of how race become understood through the structures we construct as the foundation for our society.
Government officials drawn lines around neighborhoods based on racial composition and labeled them "poor financial risks." This approach created a slew of negative consequences for African Americans and other people of color who were denied mortgages, insurance, credit cards, and student loans. While the practice was prohibited in the Fair Housing Act of 1968, the effects are still felt today.
This is an important aspect of system thinking, which is that every system is exactly as it was constructed. It is sometimes easier to say that a system is broken than to accept that we, as a society, developed a system that aims to exclude some of our fellow citizens, including my elders and ancestors, from opportunities to gain wealth and obtain financial security.
I was the first black commissioner of education for the State of New Jersey to set standards to help ensure that local schools teach the history of the LGBTQIA community, disability rights, the Holocaust, and African American and Latinx communities, as well as to ensure that students learn from a broad range of perspectives.
Students around the country may be able to examine their individual and collective past. As we examine our history, we must also recognize that we all are also writing history the good, the bad, and everything else.
While still celebrating our rich culture, I believe we can recognize our flaws. Our diversity is our greatest strength, and an honest examination of our common history strengthens our nation rather than diminishes us.
I can tell you that being the first Black president of Kean University involves tremendous responsibility. Making history comes with a price. When all new leaders usher in change, those who are first are closely monitored and harshly judged for doing things differently.
I observe the world through the lens of my previous experiences, which have a profound impact on my leadership. I believe that we must deconstruct the myths that have developed around Critical Race Theory, to ensure that students at all levels have access to the texts that capture our histories.
We must now make sure that our stories, especially the more painful aspects of slavery and Jim Crow, are not erased under the guise of banning critical race theory.
Through a thorough examination of our various perspectives, we can begin to form a narrative free of bias, as described by Woodson. The students of our great country, from preschool to college, have a right to learn about people of all ages and backgrounds who have shaped the future world in which we live.
Understanding history helps us to understand other people's past, especially those who are not like us. The more we look at history, the more we learn about it. Black history is American history.
Professor of Economics, Lamont O. Repollet, has been appointed president of Kean University.
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