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What Is Black History Month, Anyway?

It’s that time of year again! Black History month – or shall I use the reformed term, “National African American History” month. It sounds so politically polite, culturally correct.

Oh, joy.

I hate to sound cynical, but there is very little about Black History Month that doesn’t translate as apologetic or awkward.

I mean, what is Black History Month, anyway? What does it truly mean?

According to the Free Man Institute, BHM is celebrated in February because of Carter G Woodson, an acclaimed Black author. Woodson recognized that this month housed the birthdays of some nation-changing revolutionaries, such as Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. It was launched in 1926, and it started off as a week dedicated to Black accomplishments. The Washington Post says 50 years after Woodson’s declaration, President Gerald R. Ford declared the whole month to Black History.

Somehow, the original idea of this month went from being honorable and heroic to exploitative and overemphasized.

What is Black History Month? It’s a time to single out Blacks for 28 days. (the shortest month of the year, thank you) For this short yet devastating month that is February (we share it with Valentines Day….need I say more?) Blacks are placed on a pedestal, and not a completely positive one. Everyone is typically forced to remember four people who made a difference – Frederick, Martin, Malcolm and Rosa, sometimes Harriet, with a new addition of Barack Obama – and encouraged to watch movies and documentaries or read books on slavery and segregation.

Most importantly, there is an over sensitivity towards Blacks that is almost unbearable.

There are advertisements, television specials, HUB specials – heck, I’m surprised that there isn’t Black History Month paraphernalia being sold. I’m shocked that there isn’t a seasonal latte at Starbucks, or a Special Edition Civil Rights Activist Barbie Doll.

The whole idea of Black History month just seems like a way to appease the past. Like affirmative action, it’s supposed to make right of several wrongs.

The centralized focus on Black people doesn’t make us feel any more comfortable. Well, me at least. It’s charming that there is a month for us. It’s awesome that some of the most influential people are being honored. But the attention aimed at us does not fix the problem or change the direction of society. In fact, the radar placed on Black people during this month is so instrumental in its purpose that it can come off sometimes as offensive. In a strange way, this month can seem just as controlling as segregation.

I also don’t think it’s coincidental that Women’s History month proceeds it (but that is another rant).

You don’t see a White History Month or Men’s History Month. Sometimes, having everyone staring at you is not an honorable privilege. In fact, it can make you feel more alienated from society.

The problem I have with Black History month is the same problem I have with Valentines Day, or Mother’s Day and New Year’s Eve resolutions. Why do we have to set days or times of the year in order to celebrate or acknowledge something? Why can’t we appreciate it year round? I do understand the importance of Holidays. I just believe that sometimes, holidays succeed at making us dismiss the bigger picture. Some things should always be important to us, and we certainly shouldn’t be reminded about it on select days.

In elementary school, we were told to do short research projects on Black heroes of our choice. Some students went for the usuals, Freddy D and Marty L. Others went for Blacks who used their talent and fame as modes for change, like Jackie Robinson and Billie Holiday. And a few even focused on people who were more relevant to them, like Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls. I personally strived to look for less anticipated activists, like members of radical movements (they don’t teach you about the Black Panthers in grade school!).

Anyhow, one great thing about BHM is that it does cause children and people to learn more about those who changed America. But it is disheartening that we have to spend 28 out of 365 days a year in order to learn about these figures.

There is a great article by Merlene Davis, discussing a new documentary about a man who is determined to abolish Black History Month. The trailer seems interesting, and it features commentary by several thinkers. It seems like something that everyone should check out, if they want to.

Black History Month is not a totally negative thing. I recognize why it is so great. There are several activists, thinkers, protesters, revolutionaries, writers, artists, musicians and singers who have impacted American History and forever changed the lives of Black people in America. But will they look at the way BHM has evolved today and be proud?

I think they will look at the progress of our society and take that more seriously than Black movie specials or advertisements and commodities. They will look at the path that they paved – for everyone – and see if we as a people have evolved since they left their mark. America is not fighting the same battles it did 300 years ago. But we are still fighting battles, and we are still not completely united.

Overall, I believe in humanity. I believe in the strength of people, and not the distinction of race or gender or social class or other society given boundaries. Black History Month makes me uncomfortable because it’s a form of separation, depicted to be a celebration, remembrance or education experience. But we can do that any or every day.

No, I am not a raging Black woman. And no, I do not believe that we should abolish BHM. I also don’t think that we should stop focusing on it.

I do believe in color blindness. I do believe that we should learn about people of all races and cultures and genders and other, year round. I do believe that we all deserve equality and respect, without feeling like it is given to us out of necessity. I do believe in unity. I do believe that one way to evolve as a people is to leave certain things in the past, and rise together.

I… have a dream.

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About the Author


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