Black History Month is more than just a month
February 25, 2017
Filed under Ideas
Black History Month began in 1915 as Negro History Week. It was founded by black historian Carter G. Woodson and minister Jesse E. Moorland as a way to spread awareness of African Americans’ achievements. As its modern-day name suggests, in the following decades it grew into an entire month celebrating African American culture and history and a time to reflect on racial issues facing the nation today.
However, in recent years, instead of a holiday honoring the accomplishments and sacrifices of notable African Americans throughout history, such as Madam C.J. Walker and Martin Luther King Jr., Black History Month has become the topic of the same annual debate: should this celebration even exist?
On the surface, this argument seems rather superfluous and maybe even disrespectful. But the issue is much more nuanced than it appears. For instance, opponents of the celebration are not all in agreement as to why it should be abolished.
There is, of course, the side that claims that having a Black History Month is a sign of “black privilege”. These are the same opponents of affirmative action who believe that being black has now become an advantage that far surpases the racism and discrimination of the past.
They profess that the United States has undergone a role reversal in that now, white Americans are in a similar position to that of blacks in years prior. In their opinion, in giving more opportunities to people with more diverse backgrounds, they have experienced reverse discrimination and are now the truly oppressed race.
However, the other faction of the Black History Month abolishment defense believe almost the exact opposite. They want to get rid of it because they see it as pigeon-holing all of African American history into one month. Black history is American history and should be celebrated all year along with the rest of the nation’s past.
While this should be the case, it isn’t. Black History Month was established because there was little awareness of the contributions made by African Americans to this country and this is still a problem today. It would be nice to think that we as a nation have gotten to the point where African Americans are given equal representation in the classroom, but this simply doesn’t represent reality.
Despite educators’ conscious efforts to provide their students with more diverse perspectives, especially in English and history, many people’s understanding of black history does not go beyond the circumstances surrounding slavery and a brief overview of the Civil Rights Movement.
Black History Month is in no way a solution. People are justified in saying that cramming the saga of an entire group of people into one month causes important events and influential figures to be left out.
It could, in fact, be the problem. What if devoting a particular time to recognizing African American History is precisely the reason that some don’t think it necessary to pay attention to it during other parts of the year?
But despite these flaws, Black History Month at least provides a time in which African American history is a topic of conversation. What we do with that time is up to us. Instead of debating about its existence every February, we should take the opportunity to celebrate acknowledge the impact that African Americans have had on our nation.