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History Confronted

by Jasmine Cochran

About History Confronted:
History Confronted is an online database aimed towards educating people of color about their true rich histories and give educators the tools to move our society towards a norm of diversity and inclusion. The site boasts a range of contributors to true American history, both past and contemporary, in the fields of Humanities, STEM, and Arts & Entertainment. It also includes local heroes whose names the world may not know, but who have made differences in their own curves of the world.

I was in fifth grade when I realized learning my people’s history in this country was an option. 

As a kid, I had a hunger to know my origins and what my ancestors were doing before slavery interrupted their lives. Thanks to the American education system, I knew a great deal about slavery, the major focus of our Black history units. It went a little something like this: Africans were brought to America and made to be slaves. Harriet Tubman led the Underground Railroad. Abraham Lincoln ended slavery (yay!). Martin Luther King gave a speech and made things equal. You should now be grateful that any of this happened, because had it not, you’d likely still be stuck “over there,” dealing with things like female circumcision. God bless America. So, I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when I found myself in the middle of February still learning about Christopher Columbus, inquiring if we had any plans to study Black history before the month ran out, only to have my fifth-grade teacher tell me, “We don’t need that.” 

Fortunately, at home, I got a robust Black history foundation. I learned about the real contributions of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. I learned about Carter G. Woodson, countless revolutions against slavery, and that all Black folks weren’t against slavery and all white folks weren’t for it. I learned the sultriness of R&B during jam sessions with my dad and the origins of our food, which I later learned to tweak for healthier versions. Most of all, I learned that nobody was better than me, especially because of the color of their skin, a lesson that constantly had to push against the education I was getting outside the walls of my house. Because I knew better, I propositioned the school board to implement a Black history course at my school. I wrote a petition, got the necessary signatures, found a teacher, and came out victorious. My senior year, we enjoyed a brilliant Black history elective. Sadly, when I graduated, that class did, too. 

As I got older and realized there was a concerted effort to not teach the truth in American schools, I grew frustrated with a country who wanted us to pledge allegiance but refused to realize its sins that still affected us. 

There was a concerted effort to not teach the truth in American schools.

Time passed. I continued to learn about the systemic wrongs towards my people in my country. Frustration bloomed into anger. My husband and I sold everything, packed up our family of four, and moved to China. 

In 2020, the murder of George Floyd played on a loop on cell phones worldwide. The countless reports of murders of our people since Trayvon Martin and videos of those murders since Eric Garner had me, along with most Black Americans, exhausted and exasperated. Covid descended upon us, and I found the weight of a growing pandemic and ongoing genocide to be too much. After learning about Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmad Arbery, dealing with the racist views of some of my Chinese students (one told me that if not for white men, neither my people nor hers would be civilized today), and not knowing when I could get home, I drudged through the workdays and crawled under my sheets when I got home in the evenings. Then I got a phone call. 

A friend of mine who led a group for Black women in Beijing was holding a video conference to help us unpack all of this. She wanted me to tell my story of navigating life in China with two young daughters. I said yes, which led to a piece in a large publication, which led to many conversations, during which I learned people were hungry to know more about the wins of their people than their losses, and teachers were eager to teach it. Educators wanted advice about how to head up diversity and inclusion efforts in their schools or organizations, so I decided to create a database of people of various backgrounds that have contributed to society as we know it, complete with a reading list to enhance knowledge of marginalized groups. After brainstorming with like minded friends, I decided to name it History Confronted.

I decided to create a database of people of various backgrounds that have contributed to society as we know it, complete with a reading list to enhance knowledge of marginalized groups.

History Confronted led to workshops with people who wanted to know more and learn to do better, but shortly thereafter, on the adrenaline downslope, content started to show up questioning the integrity of efforts of white people to commit to the long-haul work of establishing equity. We saw folks grow tired of talking about race, and even jump the fence from willingness to listen to full-on rage against the growing equality machine. This didn’t shock me. As a nation, we seem to live on this roller coaster of two steps forward, one-and-a-half steps back. 

I can attest to the fact that at least some allies stayed the course. Since launching the site, I have spoken with more people than I can count who’ve utilized History Confronted to develop more diverse curricula for their students, set up diversity day at their schools, learn about the historical figures highlighted there for themselves, and print the posters available on the website to hang up in their classrooms and hallways. I find myself pointing friends and clients who are looking for their own avenues to share the truth about our people towards the site. I have visions of someday creating flashcards or a game so the names on the website can become as commonplace as Martin Luther King Jr.’s. There has been an awakening over the years for uplifting knowledge of our people, and I’m happy to have participated in some way. 

People sometimes tell me that I’m wasting my time and should just let folks think and do what they want, and I partially agree. I am not so naïve to believe a day will come when racism won’t be a thing. Racist people proselytize and breed racism; it isn’t going anywhere. However, I think sometimes people are unclear about my motives. 

Our country’s winners didn’t play fair, so we shouldn’t expect them to tell our stories with integrity, either.

They say history is written by the winners. Our country’s winners didn’t play fair, so we shouldn’t expect them to tell our stories with integrity, either. That’s why we need to learn and share our own. While I wanted to create a space for anybody to learn about the achievements of Black, Native, Hispanic, and Asian people, what I mostly wanted was to empower those demographics. I wanted Black kids to see that we are scientists, authors, and artists; Chinese kids to know they, like their ancestors, can contribute to society without sacrificing their names and culture at the altar of white acceptance; Indigenous kids to know they are more than the Trail of Tears and constant retraction of promises made to them by the government; Hispanic kids to know they’ve given us more than a holiday that our society has skewed to honor day drinking. I want people to know the truth. 

I want all of us to know, despite our conditioning, that those of us forced into the margins are not inherently dangerous, impoverished, or inferior, as the powers that have been and continue to be would have us believe. We are just as capable. We are just as human as our white counterparts. It’s time for our history to become just as compulsory.

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