When people talk about genocides and holocausts, they don’t usually talk much about people with dark skin. Instead, they discuss the horrible things that happened to Jews during World War II, and other atrocities that have happened around the world. When they discuss history in your child’s school, they don’t usually mention much of anything about Africa. In the world in which your child is being taught, nearly everything decent, good and productive was done by a white man.
Well, one historical figure who has earned every bit of a Hitler-like status is King Leopold II of Belgium. Leopold is largely considered responsible for the murders of between 8 and 10 million Africans during his occupation of the Congo between 1885 and 1908. Liam Oceallaigh does a wonderful job of explaining Leopold’s “contributions” to history and why we are not likely to learn about him in school. According to Ocealliagh:
Most of us – I don’t yet know an approximate percentage but I fear its extremely high – aren’t taught about him in school. We don’t hear about him in the media. He’s not part of the widely repeated narrative of oppression (which includes things like the Holocaust during World War II). He’s part of a long history of colonialism, imperialism, slavery and genocide in Africa that would clash with the social construction of the white supremacist narrative in our schools. It doesn’t fit neatly into a capitalist curriculum. Its bad to “say racist things” (sometimes), but quite fine not to talk about genocides in Africa perpetrated by European capitalist monarchs.
The deaths of Africans were facilitated by Leopold by whipping them for failing to meet production quotas, and some were worked to death while living in abysmal conditions. Many died from disease and some died from famines that occurred as Leopold’s army took the food and destroyed entire villages.
Leopold profited handsomely from the resources in Africa, earning as much as $1.1 billion in today’s dollars during his lifetime. He reportedly used the money to buy expensive gifts for his teenage mistress.
Leopold had hundreds of bodies dumped into rivers and lakes and kidnapped/murdered entire families. They would present baskets full of severed hands to officers as evidence of how many people had been killed. In other words, black people were considered to be less than human.
When we read about historical figures and incidents such as this one, we should be reminded of the dangers of allowing our childrens’ minds to be hijacked by an educational system that teaches them to forgive, forget and assimilate. Even the most educated among us can be the most passive and ignorant, largely because much of our history was stolen and never shared.
One of the thoughts that came to mind when I spoke this week with educator Steve Perry and another friend, Jawanza Kunjufu, is the importance of all black families educating our children at home. This may not mean taking your child out of the school system, but every child must be homeschooled on some level, so that they can learn the things that the school system will never teach.
Knowledge is power, and the digital age affords us an unprecedented opportunity to speak to one another without filters or racist gatekeepers seeking to manage and control our messages. A new day is here in black America, and it’s time to celebrate that new day by learning to think for ourselves.
We must be sure to teach our children the truth.