Why Black History Month is Necessary & Vital

“In an ideal world, Black History Month wouldn’t be necessary. But we don’t live in one.”

With stories of racial profiling still making national headlines, Haiti being referred to as a “shithole” country by the the nation’s current sitting president, and Africa being oft referred to as a country (it’s a continent); it’s painfully obvious tomost  black Americans the necessity of Black History Month. 

However it seems that even in 2018 many white people still “don’t get it” and can be seen rolling their eyes and snickering at the mention of this nationally and historically (since 1976) recognized designation at the water cooler. 

A few questions came up when considering this topic:

  • If black history is American History, why is Black History Month an issue?
  • Better yet, why are the achievements of black and brown inventors, poets, doctors, lawyers and more erased from most commonly used textbooks across the nation? 
  • Why are movies like Hidden Figures still so poignant and the stories told within unknown? 

These questions alone speak to the fact that OUR history, our achievements, our stories have been chopped, screwed, erased, whitewashed, appropriated and ignored by white historians and the masses as well as society at large. 

The myth of a post racial society is the ideology that many spew when attempting to dismiss and malign this historical month; but really this notion in itself is nothing more than thinly veiled racism.

In her 2017 article written for Aljezeera, Danielle Fuentes Morgan assistant professor for Santa Clara University eloquently writes:

Whenever someone invokes the post-racial mythology, what they really mean is that black and brown people must disappear into whiteness. In the post-racial mythology, everyone is racialised, except white people who are just people. 

If the burden of the post-racial is only on non-white people, what does “post-racial” actually mean?…

She continues:

The fact that conversations about the teaching of black history only emerge in earnest in February ironically serves to underscore the continued necessity of Black History Month as a frame for education.

When Black History Month is construed in these same terms, what critics of this commemoration are ultimately saying is that black children do not deserve the optimistic and inclusive view of their own history to which white children are automatically entitled. 

If the concern really stemmed from a desire for fairness, these same critics would find it untenable that a student educated in the US could go their entire educational career without encountering James Baldwin, Richard Wright, or Zora Neale Hurston, but having read Mark Twain – twice.

The criticism suggests the issue is not the celebration itself, but instead a desire to disallow black children an understanding of culture and of black pride. Namely, that there are forerunners who provide a representational template for the lived possibilities of black excellence – one that defiantly refuses whiteness as its centre. It is the possibility of black childhood joy, unencumbered and rendered separate from whiteness, and not the idea of a Black History Month itself, that is being problematised. 

In this way, for many critics of the celebration, black history just simply isn’t real history. Those who decry Black History Month aren’t asking for more diversity within the classroom; they are asking for the continued centring of whiteness as the true American experience.

How can you understand where you can go if you were never taught about all the greatness that came before you? 

For those of us championing and continuing to tell our stories and working to ensure that those behind us see them self and know what our people have accomplished, are accomplishing and will accomplish; black history month is vital. It’s vital and necessary to be featured in February as well as every month thereafter. 

Dedicating one month out of every year to celebrate the accomplishments of the black and brown women and men that quite literally built this country in no way denigrates or overlooks the accomplishments of others. Nor does it exclude the need to continue to teach about black history for the remaining ten months of the year.

If in 2018 you are reading this and still don’t understand, You are the problem. White is still like right and many white people still don’t understand that representation, or the lack of black representation matters. It matters in our past and our present. It matters in our boardrooms. It matters in our classrooms. It matters on our tv screens and in our magazine ads. It matters in our history books. 

If you’ve come this far and still don’t get it, Professor Morgan sums it up best: 

Until the limited view of history and of who gets to be an American undergoes a significant change, like saying “Black Lives Matter,” we need to specifically claim a space for black history.

Read more of Danielle Fuentes Morgan’s article here

Published by Calvin Eaton

(he/his/him) Calvin Eaton is a disabled community educator, content creator, and social entrepreneur, whose area of expertise includes antiracism, equity, justice, instructional design, and program development. In 2016 Mr. Eaton founded 540WMain, Inc. a non-profit online and community-based organization for accessible education and events that promote justice for all.

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