May I never remember reasons
for my spirit’s safety
may I never forget
the warning of my woman’s flesh
weeping at the new moon
may I never lose
that keeps me brave
May I owe nothing
that I cannot repay.
Audre Lord, “Solstice”, The Black Unicorn, 1978.
Lorde is channeling here, among other things, a very personal yet simultaneously universal exhortation to not lose one’s history, especially if it is a history of hardship. There is great power in knowing where you come from; in knowing how to face the brutal reality of your own history as well as your country’s history. It is very similar to understanding the distinction between knowing of a cliche, and knowing and understanding the story from which the cliche has sprung. This comprehension is the muscle of history, the conviction and philosophy behind words and actions that are the grounding for meaningful existence, and the fail-safe against regressing into mistakes of the past.
Yet, there was a time when mainstream American education meant to make its people forget their own history.
Dr. Carter Goodwin Woodson—the founder of Negro History Week which later became Black History Month—once said, “If a race has no history, it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated.” Dr. Woodson was a major proponent for self-reliance and the independent thinking of blacks in America. Much of his work in his writing and activism, focused on efforts to solidify black history and tradition in the American psyche and especially in its schools which excluded their history from the curriculum. It was a school system that either denied, ignored, or downplayed America’s history of inhumanity towards African Americans, Native Americans, Hawaiians, and various other groups of minorities during times of war or colonization.