Black History Month. When these words are put together to form this statement, many things come to mind. Mostly, the words "February" and the age old joke about why must an observance of history be restricted to the "coldest month of the year". Others think about the actual black history, and others thought "why is black history month so important?" But mainstream media has another idea… it’s called "President’s Day Sale", "Valentine’s Day Sale" and my favorite… 10% off Black books. Alright, maybe that isn’t always the case. But bookstores will always put black authors up in front for that very month. A few hardcore visitors to the site know that every black history month, I mention the month, but never really "observe" it.
Well, I’m writing why black history month was important and why this idea is not only played out, but is mostly a novelty than anything else.
As you may or may not know, Black History Month started off as "Negro Achievement Week" in 1926. Carter G. Woodson, director of what was then known as the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, marked a week in February for his idea because it marks the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglas. His intentions back then was to promote Black History as part of American History, since there were no mention of black historical figures in the history books during his time.
There are many debates about how Black History Month started, and I’m not going to get into this argument. However, I will tell you that in the Caribbean (St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands) during my high school years, Black History Month played an important role in school. It’s the only month where most of the black heroes and historical figures are mentioned big time. If you know the Caribbean, then you know that the majority of population are black people. When studying Caribbean History, it’s easy to point out the important events and much easier to include the difference natives and black people made during those years. However, when it comes to U.S. History, we studied what most Americans studied; Europe and how Christopher Columbus "discovered" America and how slavery is a minor point.
Now, mind you, when I went to college (and even in high school), they never taught us that Christopher Columbus discovered America, but encountered it. However, this is off-topic and we’ll leave this for that Columbus Day sale later in the year.
During my years of high school, I had one teacher for US History… and I’ll never forget his name. Mr Tyson, a historian and US Army Sergeant. His style of teaching was very unusual… at least for a high school teacher. He didn’t teach ANYTHING from the history books. We were only allow to listen and write down word-for-word everything he said. He told us things and made me remember a lot. However, some of us thought that maybe he’s making things up. He would always back up his words and tell us to do the research ourselves. Of course, as a teenager, I never thought of doing such a thing. But if anything, what I didn’t know is that Mr. Tyson knew what he was talking about. He integrated black history along with US History and made sure that we understood it. However, because of his odd teaching style, I barely passed US History and failed Caribbean History, forcing me to retake the class with an even stricter Ms. Petty… who just happens to be a US Army Sergeant and follows Mr. Tyson’s game plan.
Leaving school, one those wonder "why teach history in the first place?" In the real world, knowing your history isn’t a very practical skill. You can probably go through life and it will absolutely will not harm you miss a few facts. However, let’s take other things into consideration. If you don’t know your history, then you don’t know really know what you are capable of and if you don’t know your history, you are bound to repeat it. Historical figures set paths for us to follow and even surpass. They are the reason why there’s so many great stories of conquests of the human spirit. You may even know a quote or two from a great leader that inspired you. There’s countries that will never teach the truth of what happened in their own past in hopes of suppressing it’s people. So, when you think about it in those terms, knowing a country’s history is not as bad as it sounds. On the contrary, it’s very important to know your history.
So, why would I say that Black History is a novelty? It’s because when you think about it, the words "black history" sounds like an elective class. Learning black history and making a month towards the very subject is kinda like JROTC class; it’s cool to gain an higher understanding of self via training classes, but it’s not needed to graduate. If black history was taught along side American History, then the black people of this country would have a united front. Of course, that statement is a tall order, but let’s consider a few things to show how black people are purposely written out of the history books.
- In the history books I read, Abraham Lincoln was a hero because he freed the slaves. However, they also opted out that the Emancipation Proclamation only freed the slave and not giving them anymore rights. Let’s not forget that Abraham Lincoln is a member of the Republican Party… and yet, a lot of blacks join this party, ignorant of this fact.
- Affirmative Action was set in place to offset policies that affect American black people today. Now, a lot of people think Affirmative Action is unfair. However, when you consider that black baby boomers and their grandparents have to fight for their rights while white people were able to build careers and businesses off the backs of black people, we can’t always say fair right?
- White students usually ask the question "why do we have to learn black history?" and white parents protest asks why black people get two months (June is Black Music Month), but if a white organization does the same thing (have a white history month), they are wrong? Well… I’m about to tell you…
American Students learn "white history" everyday. We were taught about the American Revolution, but they never mentioned that a black man was the first death. We were taught that Martin Luther King stood up for his people and inspired many, but were only shown small clips of his "I Have A Dream" speech. I was 25 when I saw his entire speech from beginning to end… and I looked for it on my own. We were taught about the holocaust and World War II for a month, yet learn about U.S. slavery period for about a week. Black people invented rock and roll, but "Elvis did everything". And this almost repeated in Hip-Hop when they were trying to give Eminem WAY too many props. We were taught the National Anthem, but there’s many black students who may never know "Lift Every Voice And Sing" is the Black National Anthem. Also, we were never taught that Martin Luther King’s birthday were not observed in all states at first and Arizona finally approved to observed MLK’s birthday… so they can host a Super Bowl and not because it was the right thing to do.
So, in a way, Black History month these days is like "Affirmative Action". For this month, the Board of Education decides to teach who they think is important… and since the majority of the country is really a white population… then in some states, black history is never taught, increasing the ignorance and showing just how "fair and balanced" US History really is. Somewhere, the real purpose of honoring Black History is lost and it became a joke on our backs. I’m not saying that the history books don’t mention black people at all, but they do marginalized their contributions. There’s is a lot more to the civil rights movement than Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks.
Until we demand that the Board of Education rewrite the books and integrate our history with their history, Martin Luther King’s dream is still deferred. Until then, no one will understand why Affirmative Action was set in place. Until history is taught as it should have been, no black students will have historical role models until they choose to look it up themselves. How can we be "equals" if all we learn is censored history?
Black History Month is here to remind us of one fact: Black History is part of American History!
But until we get our minds right and put our energy into pushing this into the mindset of EVERYONE in America…
Black History… is a novelty.
We demand for equal rights. Make this part of the demand… so the future kings and queens know how to hold their head up high…
… I guess this is what Mr. Tyson and Ms. Petty was trying to teach me… well, Mr. Tyson and Ms. Petty… lesson learned.
Ladies and Gentlemen, your thoughts have been remixed.
Edited: After publishing this post, I realized I left off when Black History month started and I didn’t finish my thoughts on