As I scrolled Facebook today I saw a status that read, “when is white history month?”
To me this seems literally insane. Open a history book, white history (according to our history books) is every other goddamn month of the year! Out of twelve months a prominently Caucasian government gave black people the single SHORTEST month of them all to teach our nation about their history. Talk about some bullshit. I get that there are plenty of poor and underprivileged white people (as well as other races/nationalities) out there, believe me I do, and I get that inequality causes a divide but it’s important that we understand; wealth is not synonymous with white privilege. Being able to walk outside without the fear of constant judgement is. The fight for equality is not a fight to give everyone an equal amount of shit, the fight for equality is the fight to give everyone an equal chance.
So let’s explore black history month a bit. Three countries actually observe black history month. It is February for the U.S. and Canada, and October in the U.K. The time period is used to study and remember the African diaspora. This refers to the communities throughout the world that are descended from the historic movement of peoples from Africa predominantly to the Americas, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East among other areas around the globe. Black history month was started in the United States a lot earlier than most people would probably suspect, in 1926 by the historian Carter G Woodson. From it’s initial phase, primary emphasis was placed on encouraging the coordinated teaching of the history of American blacks in the nation’s public schools. The first “Negro History Week” was met with a mixed response, gaining the cooperation of the Departments of Education in the states of North Carolina, Delaware, and West Virginia as well as the city school administrations of Baltimore and Washington D.C.
By 1929 churches were playing a significant role in the distribution of literature in association with Negro History Week. Also with the aid of press publicity efforts.
Negro History Week was at this point met with enthusiastic response; it prompted the creation of black history clubs, an increase in interest among teachers, and interest from progressive whites. Negro History Week grew in popularity and was soon adopted nationwide.
In 1976, as part of the United States Bicentennial, Negro History Week became Black History Month and was officially recognized by the U.S. government. President Gerald Ford spoke in regards to this, urging Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” This would help unify the nation, especially after the murder of Martin Luther King Jr on April 4, 1968.
The U.K. first celebrated Black History Month in London in 1987, and it has since become nationally recognized there too. It was organized through the leadership of Ghanaian analyst Akyaaba Addai-Sebo, who then served as a coordinator of special projects for the Greater London Council.
Most recently, in 1995, Canada also adopted the observance of Black History Month along with the U.S. It wasn’t until 2008 though that it became officially nationally recognized.
Black History Month has been criticized by celebrities and figures of notoriety for the reasons mentioned in the introduction. Morgan Freeman has gone on record saying that, “I don’t want a black history month. Black history is American history.” While I do see Freeman’s point, I tend to disagree a bit. As an American Jew living in a state that does not require Holocaust education along with the history of World War Two I do think it is important to hold our country’s education to a standard, because with out it most people won’t make the time. Especially education of history, which makes us more compassionate and better able to shape the future.
School is hard and in our capitalist system higher education is also expensive. Often times it seems like we as people can be doing better things with our time than sitting in a classroom or even just studying. This is where I personally disagree, I know my grandmother, then living in France, couldn’t afford to finish high school (although she did eventually finish her education at night school after a full days work at a pharmacy) and my grandfather, then living in Lithuania, didn’t receive a formal education either so I try not to complain about my privilege. A fully rounded education of all disciplines is very important so if we are prompted to, for one month out of the year, devote a bit of our time specifically to the appreciation of black history maybe that isn’t so rough.