Black History Month is to a year what Valentine’s Day is to February: a sort of random “appreciation” for something that you should care about everyday.
I recognize that my surface-level outlook on Black History Month comes from a place of pettiness, and I’m definitely downplaying the significance of it a lot with my previous comment. Black History Month is “an annual celebration of achievements by African Americans and a time for recognizing their central role in U.S. history.” That sounds lovely, but I have some apprehensions.
To start, it doesn’t sit right with me that Black history is separated (or, if I dare say, segregated) from U.S. history when both are so intertwined. Consider which Black people (hint: Black Americans) we choose to recognize during Black History Month. It churns my stomach, but I also recognize the significance of dedicating special time to it. To add, it doesn’t sit right with me that Black History Month is celebrated in February (the shortest month of the year), which purposefully coincides with Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. However, the month used to be “Negro History Week,” which purposefully aligned with both Lincoln’s and Frederick Douglas’ birthdays, so I tend to push the former fact to the back of my mind as well.
To sum up my miniature rant: I have a love-hate relationship with the concept of Black History Month. I approach it with caution, but, overall, it is a way to uplift Black excellency, so, at the end of the day, I’m here for it. My biggest problem now, and one that has actual relevance, is the way we celebrate this month of Black “recognition.”
Black History Month is an “all talk with nothing to show for it” kind of celebration. It’s rare to see non-Black people talking about Black History Month in any useful capacity. In school, we learn about it . . . kind of. Some of us get a floating Monday off in February . . . for President’s Day. Nothing really happens. Apple is doing some pretty cool things to highlight Black media! There are some articles about where to donate for Black History Month! People post about it on social media — yippee! It’s just not enough.
I’m not expecting the world to change in one month. Obviously. As a Black American, I know things don’t happen fast in the U.S. when it comes to minorities. Something has to happen, though. Personally, I want the biggest change to be in the education system, especially at the grade school level. Schools aren’t required to teach Black history during Black History Month. As a matter of fact, many schools aren’t required to teach Black history at all. Just this week, a school in Utah attempted to allow families to completely opt their children out of education about Black History Month. How could you understand American history if you leave Black people out of it?
I know I have to introduce the question: What is the significance of learning Black history in school? If it isn’t obvious enough already, you can’t know American history if you leave Black history out of it. Also, to take it to a highly political level: consider Black Lives Matter. This movement has existed since 2013, and it is centered around the fact that police kill Black people at disproportionate rates. We have already established that the average high school graduate will not know much about Black history, therefore not understanding the Black experience. Do you know what level of education is required to become a police officer in most places? A high school diploma. It seems pretty unethical, to me, to police people you know nothing about.
Also, what a way for the U.S. to prove that it does not care about Black people. Erasing our history, taking away a chance for us to easily find insanely strong and inspirational people we can relate to — thanks a lot. (Just saying, if I knew Maya Angelou when I was seven, I would have been much more confident in my dream to become a writer.) I grew up with a White family, and I learned in a primarily (I’m talking 97 percent) white school district. I only learned three things about Black history: Martin Luther King Jr. existed and delivered a famous speech called “I Have a Dream,” Abraham Lincoln ended slavery, and some slaves weren’t treated all that bad.
Just thinking about that gives me a headache.
My mother had to teach me that Lincoln didn’t choose to save the slaves; he chose to keep the U.S. united, and ending slavery just so happened to be the way to do that. Google taught me more about incredible Black figures in history than my grade school teachers did. Frankly, it’s ridiculous that I had to get to college to finally be able to sit down in a classroom that actually taught me something true about Black history. It’s also ridiculous that Whittier College just finally added a Black and Africana Studies minor in 2019 — and guess what? Black professors had to take the charge on making that happen! I have been so lucky and so grateful to work with professors within that minor that are not Black, and to have a white family that cared about my identity, but, in general, only Black people care about Black business.
I do put significant blame on the school system for this.
If we would just be taught about Black history, there would be so much more tolerance and understanding in this country. I don’t care about Christopher Columbus. I don’t need a deep-dive into the American Revolution three years in a row; I promise, I learned it the first time. I just want Black people to be understood; equality would be so much easier that way. Most fights happen because of a misunderstanding. That’s true for relationships involving two people, and it’s true for relationships involving entire races.
The “Father of Black History” himself, Dr. Carter Godwin Woodson, hoped that, one day, there wouldn’t need to be a special place for Black history — that, in time, equality would blend it all together, as it should be. If we include Black history in U.S. history at a grade school level, and recognize that the latter cannot exist without the former, that would start to happen. Maybe a change for Black people doesn’t have to be spread out over decades, for once.
Featured Image: Sage Amdahl / Quaker Campus