Should We Even Have A Black History Month?
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Black History Month is all about celebrating the accomplishments of those who are African-American and their fight for equality. Created in 1926 by historian Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, black history month was to be the second week of February, due to Abraham Lincoln’s and Frederick Douglass’s birthdays, which fall on the 12th and 14th of February respectively.
Originally known as Negro History Week, the holiday was initially celebrated in schools; however, it was not met with much enthusiasm by students or parents. In 1976 Negro History Week expanded and became the holiday we now know as Black History Month, due to the efforts of Kent State University students and faculty who decided to celebrate the holiday for a month rather than a seven day week, giving the students enough time to recognize some of the incredible figures in history that fought tirelessly for the rights they deserved.
Although many schools followed suit, Black History Month wasn’t formally recognized as an official holiday by the American government until 1976. During the same year President Gerald Ford spoke out about how Americans should spend more time recognizing African-Americans in history. He spoke about their struggle and their fight for socio-economic independence. President Gerald Ford was right!
Americans should be spending more than just one month a year celebrating black history, especially given that the month chosen is February: the shortest, coldest of the year and containing perhaps the most consumerist holiday on the calendar, Valentine’s Day. With this being the case, why do Americans even have a black history “month” in the first place? From primary to secondary school, history textbooks are adopted and implemented into general education. Citizens learn about how America was built–namely on the institution of slavery–, but what is not taught is the history of those slaves. Students rarely learn the true history of African-Americans. The most that is taught is found in mere morsels in history textbooks. According to Mrs. Ibarra, a former history teacher and current Spanish teacher, “When I taught history in middle school…the amount of black history brought in was very little.” There are little sections on Civil Rights, but even those sections paint the white population as the heroes who freed the slaves and gave them rights.
For instance, one of the prevalent narratives is that of white-man-as-savior. In this case, Abraham Lincoln is cast as one of the main reasons why America even celebrates Black History Month, since he issued the Emancipation Proclamation. Even he himself owned slaves, which reveals the hypocrisy of this debacle. In reality, African-Americans fought for their own rights, without much support from other races. They faced discrimination and segregation for most of their lives and history, yet they still trudged on–hoping that they would eventually be seen as equals. Nevertheless, the bottom line is that black history should be celebrated every day, not just once a year.
World history is by and large dictated by the victors. So why, as a society in which minorities are fully enfranchised, do we limit Black History to one month in the entire year? America should embrace the history of all races and realize that it is figuratively neither a “salad bowl” nor a “melting pot” but instead–or aptly symbolized by–an image the reflects the values of sharing and interconnection. As Ishmael Reed points out in his “America: The Multinational Society”: “Such blurring of cultural styles occurs in everyday life….as a cultural bouillabaisse, yet members of the nation’s present educational and cultural Elect still cling to the notion that the United States belongs to some vaguely defined entity they refer to as ‘Western Civilization’, by which they mean, presumably, a civilization created by the people of Europe” (Reed).