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Culturally Responsive Education: Unpacking "Black" Identify before Enslavement

Updated: Jul 16, 2022

Written by Judy Villeneuve-Dyce Published on February 13, 2022 Click here to listen to this article.

My favorite color is black. Besides being the most elegant color to wear, especially in silk and velour, the wearer always emanates a seriousness of purpose. It is a misunderstood color rarely seen as gentle. But, black is soothing when the moon lit black tinted sea caresses your skin during a midnight swim and calm when digging your toes into the black, sparkling, warm sand in St. Elizabeth on the south coast of Jamaica. I don’t drink coffee but I love when my tea is black. The deep color reassures me that each delectable sip I take will be flavorful.

The color “black” has endured slanderous assaults' enveloped into the English dictionary. This brutal war on the word black, makes the color black, and by extension, people whom are considered to be "black", synonymous with heinous terms such as disastrous, calamity, cancerous, sinful, fiendish, devilish, horrible and treacherous, just to name a few.

The people whom these negative depictions, about "blackness", were created to describe, too often have adopted these terms to disparage one another. For example, in Jamaica, there is a black beetle called “Tumble-Tud” that digs a hole, rolls, and buries feces. Locals will call people a Tumble-Tud when they have very black skin. This is just an example among a plethora of negative associations with the color “black” as an identity.

Many people mistakenly believe "black" is a race. But, "black" is not a race. "Black" is a color that has been used by colonial nations to define a certain group of people with an African heritage, who are assumed to share undesirable characteristics and behaviors, so that they may be uniformly deprived of socially equitable, financial opportunities and societal benefits. Calling people "black" also serves to separate that group's identify from their African heritage, ethnicity, culture, country, history, and contributions to world.

Despite commonly known marginalized treatment, African people's impact on world history is well documented throughout Western Europe. The art depicting the Moors, I saw at the Louvre in Paris, France, was one of the most enlightening and breathtaking discoveries I have ever had. For the first time, I saw the Maure, Dit le Moro, and other African sculptures and paintings of men and women wearing intricate, flowing materials that portrayed the wealth and status they held in Europe between the 1400s and 1800s.

Who were the Moors, about whom these exquisitely, lifelike artistic representations of dignified, graceful, powerful and clearly important black skinned people, where made? I learned that as early as 711 A.D., Moors conquered Spain and ruled the country for more than 700 years. By 1494, the Moors left Spain but not without leaving a remarkable legacy of education, engineering, architecture and culture in Europe that remains to this day. Ironically, Portugal, located on the south-west side of Spain, is credited for not only starting the enslavement of Africans traded throughout Europe in 1444, but they were also the first to begin referring to African enslaved people as simply "black".

Since African enslavement, the education of these formerly enslaved people, in America and in many post colonial nations, has either been denied to them entirely through legislation or the education provided fell short of providing historically, accurate facts about the contributions people originating from African nations played in the history of America and the world. Education about African people focused instead on their enslaved past, religion and manual labor.

February is “black” history month in the United States and is dedicated to remembering the contributions of African Americans. This month, ESI's 8pm online talk show, EduTALK is hosting its' African Diaspora Series. On February 15th, guests discuss what it means to be "black" and on February 28th, a historian shares major contributions to American history made by people from the Caribbean.

The role played by people with a shared African heritage in the Caribbean, French Islands, as well as Africa, Europe, and beyond unifies the historic narrative of African people. By relaying this history pervasively to both children of African descent, as well as all the other people in the world community with whom everyone has a shared human history, sets the stage for true education, liberation and cooperation between all nations for the betterment of the world at large.

This lofty goal begins with the creation of culturally responsive education at every school that tells accurate history through an inclusive curriculum taught in a student centered manner focused on humanities' intersections rather than their differences while eradicating the colonial legacy of exclusion and misinformation of historically underrepresented communities.

Mrs. Judy Villeneuve-Dyce is the Chief Financial Officer of Education Solutions International a nonprofit 501(c)3 and she is a City Government Education Policy, Law, Compliance and Public Engagement expert. She provides consultation services to administrators in Education Policy and Public Engagement and conducts trainings for young adults and professionals about the college admission process and job application strategies through the ESI nonprofit.

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