My most notable Black History Month experience was over 10 years ago, when I wore deliberately tattered clothes with a scarf tied around my head to pay tribute to Harriet Tubman. In that third- or fourth-grade class, there were at least three Martin Luther King Jr.s, two George Washington Carvers, a few Rosa Parks—and of course, I wasn’t the only Harriet Tubman. It was like Halloween, but instead of vampires and ghosts, we were all dressed up as abolitionists and boycotters. Although well-meaning, it was poorly executed and probably offensive by today’s standards. Yet this experience highlights the significance of Black History Month for many Americans. It is a month meant to celebrate and highlight the notable achievements, achievements and contributions of Black Americans. Today, Black History Month not only separates Black American history from American history – when they are the same thing – but it is often used to avoid institutional change by replacing 28 days of spotlight. socially progressive. Black History Month reflects both the best and the worst of how race is treated in our society, whether in education, politics or the media. Before anyone else dresses up as Harriet Tubman this winter, we all need to ask ourselves about the unspoken implications of Black History Month.
Despite the original reason and research of its founders, a monthly celebration is no longer enough in today’s society – we must rethink the teaching of black history. Currently, race is considered fundamental, but the cultures, experiences, and conversations surrounding it are considered choice. For the most part, African or African-American studies are a elective in high school, a major or minor chosen in college, or an aspect of extracurricular activities. It has become second nature to separate black American history and American history. More often than not, people choose to engage with the former and have no choice but to engage with the latter — all the while, these stories are from the same place at the same times.
The way American citizens engage in Black History Month suggests that the history of the United States could have and did exist outside of the history of Black Americans. Black inventors, politicians, writers, singers and so on are barely covered in American history. Then, when February 1 arrives, we are reminded or introduced to historical figures who have always been there. The current common practice of Black History Month suggests that those numbers weren’t there – or they were, but there wasn’t enough time, interest or importance to find out more on them. In many ways, Black History Month has become less about highlighting black figures and their contributions, and more about suppressing their historical significance, except for one month of the year.
Moreover, the current practice of excluding black historical figures until February is a source of insincerity and ignorance. During Black History Month, my high school sociology teacher gave us a thick bundle filled with black inventors, military officers, writers, and innovators from the Reconstruction period to the civil rights movement. . Nothing prevented him from giving it to us sooner – if not for a lesson, for our own benefit. Also, nothing more was said about anyone in the book, and I’m sure almost none of the students remember any of these characters. The program referred to these numbers as “did you know” facts instead of part of US history – important enough to mention, not important enough to elaborate.
When Black History Month is treated as a time to lump together years of black history, black voices, and black initiatives into 28 or 29 days, it suggests a trend. One can choose to learn more about black people – black women, international black women, LGBTQ+ black figures and other intersecting identities in particular – but it is never mandatory. It shouldn’t be a choice. While opponents argue that critical race theory and anti-racism policies are themselves racist, I want to offer a hard truth. American history is racist – and sexist, homophobic, Islamophobic and two hundred other Pandora’s boxes.
However, the story will not change. It’s happened before – separating each racially tagged story into a month doesn’t take away from that truth. To highlight someone, you must first write it. Suddenly bringing up names, titles, and facts for a month doesn’t warrant appreciation — it warrants a sense of dissociation. Nonetheless, black history is American history and if it were taught as rigorously and thoroughly as any other aspect of American history, Black History Month would be a time to celebrate what we already know and continue to learn. Whether or not one chooses to learn black history, it is there and it is American history. Teaching and learning does not divide, but unites us all.
Happy Black History Month.
Shaleah Tolliver is the Cavalier Daily’s Senior Associate Opinion Editor. She can be reached at [email protected].
The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Cavalier Daily. The columns represent the opinions of the authors only.