So why do I think history is SO relevant to you in your life today?

A headshot of Khalil Gibran Muhammad, guest contributor.

Hey there! 👋

I'm your guest Rumie teacher, Khalil Gibran Muhammad. I'm a professor, author, podcaster, and African American History education advocate.

I've studied Black history for over 25 years. So I'm a chronic learner just like you!

Did you know historical research shows our ongoing (and long-standing) race problem is not separate from the current economic inequalities affecting America as a whole?

Two characters from the show Run the Burbs. One says to the other,

In fact, the systemic oppression we can observe in Black history shaped the current ways that Black folks experience barriers to success today.

But why does Black history matter to you, dear learner?

History is your (meta) armor

Bare with me while I offer some rocking chair wisdom for you. 🤭

A character from Scared Famous sits on a rocking chair.

Life is actually a battle. 👀

You're going to need some grade-A armor to manage the inevitable conflicts in your life journey.

Understanding history can be this durable armor that prepares you for:

A ballot box. Navigating the Law

History helps you become an informed voter and active citizen. It also helps you understand the court system.

A tax form. Doing Your Taxes

It's important to understand how and why taxation policies affect you.

A group of people talking.

Quality Relationships

Learn to communicate the historical context of your opinions on current issues.

A scale. Self-Discovery

History helps you develop your values and decision-making skills.

History can shape your purpose

When I first went to university, I was ready to become the Black businessman of my parents' 80s dreams.

A Black businessman reading the business section of a newspaper. Photo by Adeolu Eletu on Unsplash

As a freshman, I asked individualistic questions:

  • What is my education going to do for me?

  • How can I become wealthy in corporate America?

Basically, I was there to study finance and management consulting and mind my business. 💅

What changed?

My Ivy League peers, struggling with their own racist perceptions, questioned if I were qualified to be at the same school as them.

A young man asking,

After my first year of university, I realized I would need to defend myself with historical understanding.

I wondered:

  • How can I learn more about Black history to better defend my place at this Ivy League school?

  • How can I prepare to succeed against racism when I graduate?

Black history, meet macroeconomics 🤝

I was missing the reality of how my Blackness affected my life, for a few reasons:

  • Post-Civil Rights era: The Civil Rights Movement was a nonviolent protest from 1954 to 1968. The aim was to abolish legalized institutional racial segregation, discrimination, and disenfranchisement. Once the campaign cooled off, the Black community took a deep breath, and parents like mine wanted children to enjoy the fruits of their labor.

  • Inequality Continued: I didn't understand that despite the gains of Civil Rights, structural inequalities remained a problem for Black people.

A young black man at a rally. His shirt reads, Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

So how did I end up looking to history for answers?

It was actually through taking a university course in macroeconomics that I discovered meaningful information on how slavery built — and continues to build — America.

An icon that reads Macroeconomics is just the study of general economic factors, such as national productivity. In this case, we'll focus on slave labor.

A pack of cotton swabs. I learned that slavery is why America has become the most powerful country in the world. As we know, slave labor drastically accelerated production of raw materials (mostly cotton) at little cost.

An icon showing a gear and a factory. America continues to be the most powerful country in the world,because cotton picked during slavery funded the second industrial revolution as well as basic elements of finance capital today. 🤯

A US map. The map itself is shaped by the words, Overall, I learned Black history is American history, because our system of federalism was built to solve for and protect the interests of slaveholders.

A Black congresswoman says,

Studying history combats misinformation

You may be wondering where this Black history has been hiding. 🤔

An image of Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass. The text reads: Tell hard truths. Teach Black history.

Would you believe me if I told you that:

  • The impact of slavery is still so embedded in our society that it's hiding in plain sight?👀

  • Once you look at our current society with Black history glasses on, it cannot be unseen? 🔎

  • Denying racism as a construct is a very powerful tool to slow down progress? ⚡

A sign at a protest. It reads: in the age of information, ignorance is a choice. Photo by Alex Motoc on Unsplash

Here are 3 examples of how slavery is still built into our society today:

  1. System of voting (a.k.a. the Electoral College): Slavery gave us the electoral college, which means small states, wherever they are, have more proportionate power over the Presidential race than big states. This formula affects the Electoral College since it is the number of representatives, plus Senators. For example, as a percentage of the total in the state, California has far fewer Black people than Mississippi.

An electoral college map showing the results of the 2016 US Presidential election.

  1. Healthcare system: There is a racial hierarchy in our current healthcare system. Look no further back than the pandemic to see that racialized folks are more likely to die in a public health crisis because of structural racism in historical and modern healthcare.

  2. Global capitalism: First started with the conquest of land and genocide of Indigenous peoples, the Transatlantic Slave Trade nourished the free trade market. Even today, coerced Black and brown labor, and stolen Indigenous land empowers the economic advantages of white America.

A sign at a protest that reads: whatever you're not changing, you're choosing. Photo by Corey Young on Unsplash

Why is talking about the way slavery is embedded in our society so difficult now?

Because acknowledging how oppression is embedded in society could lead to political change that undermines white supremacy.

Let's try an historical performance review 📈

Now that we know...

  • History informs our present

  • History can show why resources are distributed as they are

  • History equips us to understand current economic disparities

...let's flex this muscle together by looking at the historical pattern of white populism.

A congressional chairman says,

America's progressive moments in racial equality have typically become stunted by white populist reactions to these hard-fought freedoms.

Here are some examples of how racial progress begets white populism:

The Lincoln Memorial.

Reconstruction Era

In 1865, slavery was abolished by Congress, and more enhanced citizen rights for Black and African Americans followed.

The caveat? 🤔 These new freedoms were a catalyst for white supremacists to join organized hate groups, such as the Ku Klux Klan.

The Great Migration

From 1910-1980, six million Black people moved from Jim Crow South to Northern states to escape racial violence and find more opportunity.

But not so fast! 🛑 Moving North meant Black folks were taking a chance on the less violent option of two violent options. The first migration phase resulted in the Red Summer of 1919, while the second phase further normalized coded segregation tactics still used today, such as housing discrimination and policing.

Court-Ordered School Desegregation

Now this sounds like progress, right? Legislators enforced de-segregated school buses to provide Black students more equal access to better schools and resources.

Unfortunately, school segregation is still a problem today. 👀 And during Biden's 2020 run for President, opponents pointed out that Biden actually praised segregationists in opposition to busing in the 1970s.

In other words, history appears to repeat itself—just not in the exact same way.

As the famous Mark Twain says:

History doesn't repeat, it rhymes.

Barack Obama says,


Which groups find Black history relevant to their work? Select all that apply.

Take Action

Are you ready to embrace history as a tool for personal growth and civic engagement?

Nat King Cole quote: only time, education, and good schooling will make anti-segregation work.

The best way to start studying Black history is to become more comfortable with the subject matter. Fortunately, we are living in a golden age of material! 🙌

Here's how I recommend studying Black history year-round:


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