When it comes to Black History Month, American society is divided. Some believe a month should not be isolated to any particular group to “celebrate” its own history.
Others believe the idea of celebrating Black History Month is racist and divisive. And many more believe celebrating Black history is celebrating Blackness and all its accomplishments.
Many have raised questions, such as: if there is a Black History Month, then why isn’t there a white history month?
So, why are many Americans opposed to, or scared of, the idea of Black History Month?
Is it because we are forced to really look at our country’s past, and that the tainted history of our country makes us uncomfortable? Or is it because we are just not interested in Black history?
What we, as Americans, need to understand is that Black history is white history. They are interconnected, and one cannot be talked about without the other.
Though Black history is given less attention and usually glossed over, Black people have been involved in every facet of America’s history. Thinking otherwise is harmful.
Black history has been interconnected with white history since the first slave ship landed at the docks of Jamestown, Virginia in 1619.
“It is impossible to understand politics, the Black community’s relationship with the police, or why we even need to say ‘Black lives matter’ if we don’t learn the history of this country,” comedian Amber Ruffin said.
Black History Month is needed and important because most of American history is taught through a narrow lens of a majority white perspective. This is a disservice to Black and white students alike.
To be a Black student in America is to always learn about your history in half-truths.
For instance, many are taught about Washington’s wooden dentures. What’s not taught in schools is the fact that “Washington paid about six pounds for nine teeth that were pulled from slaves’ mouths,” according to a payment recorded in a 1784 ledger.
Furthermore, in 2015, a Texas history textbook was caught describing slavery as “millions of workers that migrated from Africa to the southern United States to work on agricultural plantations.”
While Texas is a habitual repeat offender, it is not the only state known for continuously distorting truths in its textbooks, when it comes to Black people and Black history.
“A Child’s History of North Carolina” textbook states “enslaved people were allowed all the freedom they seemed to want and were given the privilege of visiting other plantations when they chose to do so. All that was required of them was to be in place when work time came. At the holiday season, they were almost as free as their masters.”
Though this book was written in 1916, it is still widely circulated today.
Many may think that racist ideals are a thing of the past; however, the racism Black people experience every day makes this thinking dangerous.
Take for example, for years, a Utah charter school used to allow parents to opt their children out of the Black History Month curriculum. Only after receiving backlash from the general public did they finally, this month, put out a statement that said, “it will no longer allow parents to opt their children out of the Black History Month curriculum.”
“We should not shield our children from the history of our Nation, the mistreatment of its African American citizens, and the bravery of civil rights leaders, but should educate them about it,” Academy Director Micah Hirokawa said.
We live in a society where learning about Black history – American history – is optional.
Silencing and white-washing American history is exactly why the celebration of Black History Month was started.
The concept of celebrating Black history first originated as “Negro History Week” by historian Carter G. Woodson in 1915.
Woodson and Minister Jesse E. Moorland started the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH), “an organization dedicated to researching and promoting achievements by Black Americans and other peoples of African descent.”
Gerald Ford was the first U.S. president to officially acknowledge the celebration of Black History Month in 1976, stating that Americans should “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
Black History Month is a time for many Black students to learn about the real history of their ancestors, as well as a time for their white counterparts to learn and understand.
Learning Black history is vital to comprehending the modern American system.
Yes, it is uncomfortable to learn about the atrocities of your white ancestors. No, you are not responsible for their actions.
However, turning a blind eye to the truth, and silencing the truth just because it is uncomfortable to live with, is an act of complicity.
Complicity is way more dangerous.
It is not racist to celebrate Black History Month, because Black history is white history; it’s America’s history.
Maybe if the real American history is taught in schools, then Black History Month will not be needed. But until then…