As this SNL skit shows, Black History Month has become somewhat of a joke—merely reasons to “hug a black guy.” Growing up, I became accustom to the expected reverence I was supposed to have towards this month; it aimed to empower me, give me pride, and make me feel accepted. As of lately, however, my reverence has become mild apathy, at best. I have five main problems with Black History Month that make it impossible for me to bring myself to celebrate or even support it.
1. Actual Black history is ignored. In 1619 the first slaves stepped foot onto Virginia plantations, beginning the tumultuous story of Black History. From Africa to Virginia, freedom to oppression, human beings to property, value to inadequacy, life to death: we have suffered it all. The pages that encompass the book of the Black Narrative are filled with horror, injustice, violence, and suppression. In spite of this, when celebrating Black History Month, these truths—these tragedies—are hardly ever mentioned. We turn a blind eye to the factors that actually shaped what it means to be Black in America and we focus on what’s easiest for our culture to handle: slavery. We speak about in ceremonious ways, mentioning how it happened and how it was “such a shame.” Yet, past the plantation there is no depth. Where’s the real history—the discussion on Reconstruction, disenfranchisement, the Great migration, race riots, and Black Nationalism? Talking about slavery, and even arts and food, is a crucial part of our culture; but, by focusing on these aspects it undermines the importance of other vital parts of Black history.
2. Public celebration primarily focuses on great leaders of the past. During Black History Month we often only want to revere the individuals whom society has deemed honorable and extraordinary. We decide to concentrate on George Washington Carver for his innovation, W.E. B. Du Bois for his brilliance, Booker T. Washington for his education, and Martin Luther King Jr. for his leadership. It is the “greats” of the Black race that receive celebration and acclaim. However, by doing this we overlook the everyday black role models. We commonly jump to the renowned Blacks of the past for glorification while disregarding the distinguished Blacks of today. Our societal impact—our positive influence—did not die with the late greats. The 3 million Blacks enrolled in college and the 1.9 million Black business entrepreneurs have just as much competence and potential to be equally as influential and effective. Habitually we find ourselves asking, “ Who is important? Who is worthy of recognition?” Becoming so brainwashed to the idea of blacks being inferior, we are hesitant to expect, and even to recognize, any of ourselves actually progressing and being praiseworthy.
3. Black History Month does not foster understanding of the Black race. To understand our heroes is not to understand us all as a race. Understanding our race is about acknowledging the past and comprehending how it has morphed us into the beings we are today. When we celebrate honorable leaders, does it explain why our black community has constantly fallen into subservient positions in society, becoming nothing more than followers? When we praise Naomi Campbell and Tyra Banks for being prominent women in high fashion, does it detail why many Blacks have problems with self-love, self-worth, and self-acceptance? Or when we cook “Black History” lunches and dinners, does that explain why so many Blacks are dying from heart diseases, strokes, and diabetes? These forms of celebration do nothing to elucidate the idiosyncrasies of the Black race.
4. Black History Month increases segregation and denies Black citizenship. By separating Blacks and acknowledging “Black History,” it separates us from all American history. It points us out as different from the rest. In a 20/20 interview, Morgan Freeman is quoted as saying, “I don’t want black history month. Black History is American History.” Precisely. That is not to say that blacks are essentially the same as white Americans. That is simply not true. Yes, we are biologically and physically equal as human beings, but we are unique, evolved, and mentally restructured by our past. As the phrase Tom Burrell coined states, “Black people are not dark-skinned white people.” We have our own black stories, our own black struggles, and our own black catastrophes—but as Black Americans. The color of our skin does not eliminate our citizenship. Solely because our history conflicts with that of the “friendly white” story does not mean that it is any less American. In fact, these are both complementary stories that help make a truthful, overarching metanarrative of American history.
5. Celebration of Black history should not be contained to a month. Confining black history to a mere 28 (or 29) days and then never mentioning it again does not cultivate racial acceptance; it only thickens the divide. We do not need society to give Blacks a pat on the back and a podium earned from pity to display our excellence. Especially if it is then to be taken away, and we are to be put “back in our place” at the bottom of the social order after the month is over. A true celebration of Black History should be continuous, joyous, and life-long. We have conquered bondage, slavery, massacre, social deprivation, isolation—all horrors imaginable—and we prevailed over it all. We’re survivors. Warriors. And warriors are not meant to be timid or meek about expressing their power. Thus, I am not restricting my pride in my strong, surviving, beautiful, warrior race to a single month. My Black History month is every minute of every day of every year for the rest of my life. My pride—my celebration—will not cease on March 1st.
“The Black skin is not a badge of shame, but rather a glorious symbol of national greatness.”
Joy Pickens C’17