Black History Month: The Dangers of Confining An Entire History into 28 Days
My eight-year-old self stared at the lined paper in front of me filled with words and scribbles, unsure of what I had produced. It was a cold, groggy morning on the first of February and we had begun doing our first activities surrounding Black History Month. In front of me was an essay praising Rosa Parks for her refusal to move to the rear of the bus, a woman I would later find out was not only a civil rights activist for African Americans, but also an advocate for political prisoners and sexual assault victims.
It’s funny looking back on these memories; we had only studied the most prominent African American figures: Martin Luther King Jr., Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks. Hell, even Malcolm X was too much for us. It was all about black history for the first few weeks. However, after the teachers got their required material out of the way, we went back to learning about Columbus and how he “discovered” America.
In high school, I was lucky enough to land an enthusiastic and politically correct AP US history teacher that not only incorporated black history into American history, but also took the time to focus on event and person. However, I understand that this isn’t the case in the majority of schools across America. As a non-black POC, I accept that I cannot understand all the views of African Americans, but I can report my observations and opinions of the events around me.
Bringing it all the way back to 1926, Carter G. Woodson, a co-founder of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, appointed a Negro History Week in February which became Black History month fifty years later. However, according to the NAACP, Woodson “often said that he hoped the time would come when Negro History Week would be unnecessary; when all Americans would willingly recognize the contributions of Black Americans as legitimate and integral part of the history of this country.” I reflect this opinion as well; it isn’t particularly fair to reduce an entire history of people, rich in both culture and hardship, to twenty-eight days.
However, opinions, as they often do, differ in the matter. Some, like the Kansas state Republicans, think that black history month is too long while others, like Stacey Dash think it’s unnecessary to even have one. It’s a tricky subject; on one hand it’s ridiculous to limit remembrance to a single month, but on the other hand it’s a good reminder of black history. Nevertheless, the execution is all wrong. Once we are done celebrating black history, it seems to melt into the background and everyone forgets about it until next year, much like my eight-year-old self who dreaded doing more essays on people I was told to revere, but not why.
We should have black history month. But, we should also be reminded that this isn’t a one month deal. February shouldn’t mean that you are forced into reviewing your age old notes about Martin Luther King Jr., but rather gain more appreciation into his work. For students, February should mean an a recognition of the worth of all the African Americans you’ve been studying during the year. Appreciate the full background of a race that you may or may not be a part of and understand that its content and inhabitants are not confined to this short month. Instead, take February as a friendly reminder.