Defending Black History Month

It’s that time of year again! February is fast upon us and once again I am hearing the age old argument that we should get rid of black history month. It’s not fair because there is no white history month. I have always said this is a poor argument and rarely have I felt the need to examine why I feel so strongly that this is a poor argument. Living in Missouri and progressively entering a more conservative white male dominated environment, I am forced to examine why I feel this way that way I can eloquently explain why this is a poor argument to my seemingly ill thought and short sighted superiors in the hope that they may empathize, learn, and grow. Fair warning: This will be a long post. If you do not like reading or aren’t deeply interested feel free to click away.

Point One: “If you have a black history month you must have a white history month. It’s not fair.”

What exactly do you feel is unfair about this? You claim that it goes against equality while failing to realized that you are demanding equality in an increasingly unequal society. There is no white history month because it is not needed. You have the privilege of you culture being celebrated here in American 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. You are so filled with this privilege that you often fail to realize other people don’t have the same. Let’s discuss further. Growing up learning about history we learned about every president and every fact about them, we learned about anyone white who created any invention, and our history books are continually dominated by white people. This statement is usually followed by someone explaining to me that that is to be expected because white people are the majority and outnumber African Americans. Please remember that there was a time when one slave owner had hundreds of slaves, where Native Americans far outnumbered whites. We only ever learn about Tubman, Booker T. Washington, Douglas, Carver and MLK in school, if that, and the only time we learn that is during black history month. I am African American and to this day I can name more white presidents from memory than black historical figures.  Rarely do we learn about Fannie Lou Hamer, Angela Davis, Sarah Boone, Lydia Newman, or Hon Standard all of whom made significant contributions to history. Furthermore, history texts seem to skip straight from freeing the slaves to the Civil Rights Movement as if black people took a hiatus from greatness. Did you know a black person created the first pencil sharpner, ironing board, brush, comb, dryer, gearshift, traffic light, and so much more? Where are our accolades for improving the daily lives of Americans everywhere? Why didn’t we ever learn that in school? The American educational system devalues the contributions of black people so much so that they select only a slim few black figures for us to learn about because all the other black figures would be too much to learn and it must be more important to learn about the corrupt presidency of Calvin Coolidge. Also, please tell me, what black history you have learned about since the Civil Rights Movement. I guess black people just stopped being great after about 1970. We stopped pushing limits, setting records, and being amazing as a people, huh? I need black history month so that there is a guarantee my kids learn something about their background.  If you’re about to say that is my job as a parent and you are white, I am going to counter by asking if you ever had to teach your kids that?

Point Two: Let’s hypothetically say Donald Trump becomes president and says we should have a white history month.

There is no inherent issue with you celebrating your culture and your whiteness. Feel free! I do the same thing with my blackness. However, you have crucially failed to take into account the confounding variables. In America, whiteness comes with privilege. There is an implied superiority; a position of power. White is what you want to be in America. Then you celebrating your whiteness no longer becomes just about appreciating a culture, it becomes about celebrating the superiority as well. It further reminds all other cultures in this beautiful melting pot we call America that they don’t have that privilege. This same issue does not apply to black people. There is a long history of us being the most inferior group in America. First we were slaves, then had to succumb to ongoing socioeconomic inequalities that were intentionally created shortly after the abolition of slavery, and now we are jailed, beaten, and killed for sport like nothing short of animals. There is no benefit to me flashing my blackness. I celebrate, praise, and love my culture because I want to, because I can, and solely because I love it and me doing so isn’t logically going to make anyone else feel bad. Furthermore, white Americans have a long history of exclusion. Let’s say you did want to celebrate white culture just for the heck of it, would other groups be able to come a celebrate with you? Remember even after slavery how many places black people couldn’t go, things we couldn’t do, schools we couldn’t attend. When black people celebrate our culture and our history, we don’t aim to exclude anyone else from celebrating that with us. If you are white, Asian, Hispanic, or any other color of the rainbow and want to immerse yourself in black culture I would wholeheartedly welcome that. I know this will be followed by some one mentioning black people and white artists in hip hop and rap. I said you could celebrate the culture with me and immerse yourself, not appropriate it as your own.

So throughout this next month, I challenge anyone seeing this to examine your own feelings on the subject as well as race relations in general. Why do you feel the way you do? Have you ever been told you were wrong? Open your mind and ask why people challenge your ideas, come up with counter points and be open minded and willing enough to accept defeat and grow from it.

All my love,

-J

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