The most important question you can ask yourself in February as a French teacher is….how are you teaching Black History Month in your French Class?
I’ll be honest with you, in all the schools I’ve taught in, Black History Month is something that gets neglected in French class, despite the richness of Black culture in virtually every country we study in French and the fact that the continent of Africa has more French speakers than Europe-literally, in the Congo ALONE.
This year, I’m determined to make it a daily lesson about Black History just like I did as a student teacher – (the curriculum wasn’t very rigid). I have the same lucky circumstance this year, so I’M GOING ALL OUT!
There’s so much that World Language has to offer for cultural awareness and understanding, so I personally feel that French immersion, French 1, French 2, and any French class should be the leaders in our school for Black History Month. So are you with me?
How to Celebrate Black History Month:
1. Commit to talking about the hard stuff about race and lingering inequality-even if you don’t know the answers and it makes you uncomfortable.
2. Give students a historical figure, a real person, or a real story to talk about rather than asking them to share their own experiences before they’re ready. Many students are terrified of talking about race or don’t know how to approach it. Giving them someone else’s point of view or story to critique makes everything about a hard topic easier to teach and less personal.
3. FOCUS ON EMPOWERMENT. The most important thing we can do as teachers who care about social justice is show students examples of all the amazing leaders of color in varying industries who have done incredible things for the world and for Black culture. Representation matters, and this month is about celebration as much as remembrance.
4. Teach Black culture and history all. year. long. I do a song of the week in my classes, and I deliberately seek out diversity in who gets to be put in front of my kids every week. Look at your teaching materials and ask yourself—when was the last time I highlighted a person of color? Are people of color portrayed in my resources/clipart/texts? Do all of my students feel seen and represented?
5. Find perspectives from a cultural source and focus on two-three topics. My focus this year? Misperceptions of the global Black community, starting with African countries. I’ve always been afraid to teach this because it’s so hard to find good teaching materials on African countries, so I finally grit my teeth and did it myself.
Ideas for Teaching About Africa in French Class
I was not disappointed – my musical hero and Francophone queen Angelique Kidjo did this amazing interview where she schooled a reporter on how media in the Western world benefits from disasters in Africa. Y’all, he did NOT want her to answer that question. And I got schooled too! I never thought of it the way she answered.
If you’re ready to use this in class, I’ve got a FREE resource to go with this interview that you can download here.
French teachers, if you love her as much as I do, you can grab my Angelique Kidjo Song Resource.
If you teach about African countries at all, this is a great place to start for a real voice on what the continent of Africa is really like. It’s perfect for French teachers, and an interesting perspective for anyone.
Resources for Teachers In Canada for Black History Month
If you’re a French teacher in Canada, you have an amazing resource right in front of you with amazing links to important people of color who are part of Canadian history. Check out the links and videos here.
Now that you have some places to start, here are some specific ideas for Black History Month for your French class to study:
7 Amazing French Speakers of Color for Black History Month
- Léopold Senghor– president of Senegal, leader of liberation movement in Senegal, founding member of La Négritude, African French language literary movement inspired by the Harlem Renaissance to liberate and lift up the global Black Francophone population.
- Aimé Césaire – Imagine if MLK had a secret twin born in Martinique- that’s Césaire. A political leader of Martinique, leader and activist for the rights of people of color, co-founding member of La Négritude with Léopold Senghor, poet, bestie of Léopold (obviously). Trust me, watch this video about their beautiful friendship. You’ll cry beautiful French teacher tears when you hear how they justify their movement.
- Josephine Baker – American dancer in Jazz era New Orleans, moved to Paris to escape discrimination in her career and exploded into an international sensation with her exoticism and African-inspired style involving her infamous banana skirt. Believed deeply in the power of humanity despite barriers of color and adopted many children of different races to demonstrate the power of love over racism. An interesting figure to study.
- Stromae – wildly popular Belgian singer, producer, designer, and entrepreneur who tackles difficult subjects like social media, racism, and troubled family dynamics in his music. For an activity perfect for class, check out this CLOZE listening activity for his famous song, Papaoutai.
- Yanick Lahens – writer and journalist from Haiti, incredibly intelligent commentary on the dynamics of modern society and the interplay of poverty in a developing nation trapped in a white-dominated Western world.
- Toussaint L’Ouverture – general, president, and leader of Haiti during the Haitian revolution, the only successful revolution of enslaved people in history. L’Ouverture successfully kicked out French, English, and Spanish forces from his island to declare a free Black republic. Born an enslaved man himself, he rose through incredible strife to win freedom for an entire nation. Interestingly enough, America was one of the last nations to accept Haiti as an independent nation in 1804 because slavery was still legal practice in the US. America also arrived a few years later to rob Haiti’s national treasury, along with 3 other major world powers. I bet you never read that part of our history in a textbook. Here’s a great CRASH COURSE HISTORY video on Haiti that you can do with Level 1/2 or middle school French students.
- Angélique Kidjo– we’ve already mentioned how amazing she is, but why you should study her with your kids: besides being a winner of multiple Grammys, she does an enormous amount of good around the world for the right to basic human rights. She’s a UN Ambassador of Goodwill, owns and runs her own foundation to promote secondary education for girls and women in her home country of Benin and others, and actively campaigns for the unity of all humanity to lift us all up by challenging us to be better. Get your Kidjo activities here to start working with her in class!
These are just a sampling of cultural French icons to study for Black History Month. There are so many great topics to choose from, there’s no limit to what you can do in class! Most importantly, don’t be afraid to talk about race, empowerment of all ethnicities, and the very active inequality still in our world today. The fastest way to make it better is to talk about it with our kids–especially if you are a white educator of privilege like me.
This work is important. It matters more than conjugations. Celebrate. Empower. Remember. Look Forward.
Happy Black History Month! I’ll catch you in the trenches.
Devon @ La Libre