In first grade, my classmates and I stood on risers, aggressively slapping our thighs chanting “Hi-yi-yi-yi, Hi-yi-yi-yi! Indian braves are we!”
In second grade, we celebrated Christopher Columbus. Cupcakes in hand, we sang “In fourteen hundred ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”
In third grade, we learned about California’s missions. In our play, a fellow student of color was cast as Father Junípero Serra — a figure who forcefully converted indigenous people to Christianity.
In fourth grade, I built one of those missions.
In fifth grade, I learned about the American Revolution — our First Amendment rights and John Hancock’s huge signature.
In sixth grade, I learned about ancient Egypt.
My classmates and I missed out on an important group, one that this country would be nothing without: black Americans. I can count the number of black figures I learned about in school on one hand.
As I try to understand why racism continues to breed, breathe, live and prosper in America, I keep running into problems within our education system. I went to a “blue-ribbon,” award-winning school, yet we were never given the tools to learn how to empathize with black people.
We learned about slavery, but we weren’t taught to be disgusted by it. We learned about Martin Luther King Jr.’s fight for civil rights, but we weren’t taught that black Americans’ civil rights are still violated today.
As a person with brown skin, I hurt every time I see videos emerge of police beating and brutalizing black men and women. In the 1980s, my dad fled India as police in New Delhi tortured and killed Sikhs in the streets.
The United States, the very land that people run to in order to escape persecution, is arresting, beating and killing black Americans every single day.
Moving forward, black history must have more of a presence in our classrooms. We cannot afford to keep passing down a narrative of indifference. One that tells us to be proud of white colonialists. One that tiptoes around the systemic racism and discrimination that has led to the situation we are in today.
In Sikhism we are taught to stand up for others. Our final Guru, Guru Gobind Singh ji, wrote:
“When all has been tried, yet
Justice is not in sight,
It is then right to pick up the sword,
It is then right to fight.”
We must change our mindsets. We must fight back.
And we can start by cutting back on Lewis and Clark and instead teaching about Robert Abbott, Richard Allen, Ella Baker, Mary McLeod Bethune, Katherine Johnson and the thousands of other powerful black people who paved the way for the rest of us.