Why Black History Month Matters

I’ve been meaning to get this essay out for weeks as part of my contribution to Black History Month. I may make my self-imposed deadline of February 28th, but only by a few hours.

During the month I ran across two comments which bothered me. One comment was from a white person. One comment was from a black person. Both of these individuals argued from opposing sides of Black History Month, but not in concert with each other. These individuals probably have no idea each other exist. I ran across both via Twitter.

In no particular order, I’m going to pick on the white person, a young girl attending a local high school. She tweeted, “Is Black History Month even relevant?” and “My teacher even thinks Black History Month isn’t necessary any more.”

Anger and consternation began to boil in my gut. What the young white girl essentially displayed was the failure of K-12 education to show relevance of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement. Perhaps I am too harsh. I might more accurately state, “the young white girl simply proved her teacher has no idea how to make the U.S. Civil Rights Movement relevant.” However, living in the South, my own bias is one of assuming some of the same attitudes, bigotry, and racism are still prevalent throughout our social fabric. On a positive note, I do believe  the “fabric of bigotry and racism” is getting threadbare.

I recently read a fine essay about the Nature of History, of the role of historians. Historians, in a sense, are a society’s “referees.” Historians aren’t simply supposed to assess conditions and assign credit or blame, but in a broader sense are necessary to act as referees in the event groups decide they own a piece of “history” or claim self-righteously “history is about us.” In other words, historians keep people and groups honest. At least, they are supposed to.

Yes, Black History Month is relevant and necessary. Simply because the U.S. President has partial black ancestry does not immediately invalidate Black History Month. Mixed race couples still face bigotry and racism. Black people still face bigotry, especially around elections season. Political parties either pander to blacks to drive votes, or seek to have minorities marginalized from voting locations. Many of the same attitude prevalent decades ago persist, both towards blacks, Hispanics, and towards the LGBT community. However, I do take some consolation in seeing mixed race couples out-and-about, and groups of young people of all races co-mingling.

Co-mingling is the Wave of the Future as far as cultures go, not separation or segregation. Co-mingling does not create conflict; the people who are confrontational about co-mingling, who bully, who cling to ignorance are the source of conflict.

The teacher who cannot make Black History Month relevant needs education. I dislike to re-use such a trite quote, but “those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past.” People often think too literally. I doubt the United States will ever again suffer black slavery. Thus, a teacher who thinks Black History Month is irrelevant because black slavery is technically over because Barack Obama is 1/2 black needs to be removed from the classroom and given some extra education.

The attitudes and injustices associated with black slavery and segregation persist in different forms today. People shift focus; if I can’t bully black people, then I’ll bully Hispanics. If I can’t bully Hispanics, then I’ll bully Asians. Or women. Or gays. Or whoever I feel is weak, and whose suppression helps inflate my narcissism or self-worth. If self-worth is based on suppression of people different from you, you will never achieve true worth.

The other person who made a bothersome statement was a black fellow living in New York City. He tweeted something to the affect, “White people need to leave our Black History Month alone! Black History has nothing to do with you!”

Well, actually, it sort of does.

The Jews got a country because of the atrocities committed against them by the Wehrmacht. Without those atrocities, one could speculate Israel might still be a dream. Typically, a catalyst must exist. Without slavery, blacks in the United States would have had to arrive here through some other means. Since North American slavery was engineered by Caucasian Europeans, making the argument Black History Month has nothing to do with white people falls flat with me. If we re-write history to meets own ends, we delude ourselves, and undermine the importance of the historical context which in fact brought us to our point in history.

ImageIn Baratunde Thurston’s book, “How To Be Black,” he exhorts white America to fix racism. We did not do this to ourselves, and black people cannot fix bigotry and racism directed at us by white people, Baratunde says. And, he is right. The people repressed cannot also be the ones to fix their repression. For repression to be eliminated, the repression must be ameliorated by those who are guilty of the repression. Otherwise, devolutionary forces arise, with areas seeking separate, more fair governance, or in worst-case scenarios, civil strife or war develops.

ImageWhite people have to be a part of “Black History Month” in order for “Black History Month” to be historically congruent, for lessons to continue for people of all backgrounds and ethnicity, and to bare in mind the cruelties one person can bring against another, and the cruelties which a government can impose against a population. One could no more isolate white people from “Native American History Month” than “Black History Month.”

History is owned by all and by no one.

I think Martin Luther King, Jr. might agree with me. In his own words,

“…when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:

              Free at last! Free at last!

              Thank God Almighty, we are free at last

One thought on “Why Black History Month Matters

  1. Pingback: One Geographer’s Perspective of Slavery, Racism, and the NBA | Constant Geography

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