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Why I HATE Black History Month

February 1, 2009

blackhistorytn

At the risk of being tarred and feathered:

Black History month is the only time of year that Black people are recognized or given credit for much of anything in this country.

I am not ashamed to say that for as long as I can remember, I’ve secretly hated Black History Month.

Why?

The preface of “Black” to “History” denotes that the history of Black people is not the same history as anyone else in America.  Black history is American history.  Our blood, sweat and tears are in every inch of the its foundation.  But that truth has never been adequately passed down from generation to generation.

By separating the accomplishment and contributions of Black people, those details become less important than all the other details of American history.

I fully understand the history and intention of those 28 winter days.  The accomplishments of a people have, for too long, gone unknown and unrecognized.  The same could be argued for American Indians, Chicanos, Asians, and so on.

The official version of American history, particularly in how it is taught in schools, has always been Euro centric and “safe”, it has always been “comfortable”.  As a child, American history didn’t seem all inclusive; I was never attached to it.  Black history however, was all mine, whether I wanted it or not.  Every February Black people, or those married to a Black person, or those who are parents to a Black child, suddenly become certified experts on Black people and their history- at least, that’s what everyone else seems to think.  We all wake up February 1st to find unearned honorary doctorates.  It was like a ball and chain every day I stepped into the school building.

“Sable, what can YOU teach the class about famous Black scientists artists?”

“Sable, what can YOU teach the class about famous Black architects athletes?”

“Sable, what can you teach the class about famous Black pioneers singers?”

Sable: “Ummmm…may I got the bathroom?  Please?!”

Black History Month taught me about a select few people.  Soon they became the only black people of prominence or worth of recognition.

Black History Month never made me more curious about my “roots”.  It was never a factor in my decision to seek knowledge of self or the world around me.  It gave me no appreciation for my ancestors or their accomplishments.  Real life experiences and honest conversations and profound, life changing pieces of literature (and my own family) are what gave me a sense of pride, and love, for self, for people, for my ancestors and for “my” history.

After working in public schools for nearly a decade, I have watched countless teachers of all races and backgrounds  including Black, take every short cut imaginable though “Black History”: curriculum, projects, games, quizzes and even speeches for students to recite at “Black History Month Celebrations”, all printed from random websites without ever giving the information a critical second look for accuracy or age appropriateness.  All without truly engaging the students or the information blindly passed to them.  It would be pointless if it weren’t ultimately harmful to the minds of children- Black, White and everything in between.

Black History Month has become nothing more than a token.  Something to have for the sake of taking up space with very little substance at the same time.

We as a country are evolving.  At present we all suffer under the weight of an international economic crisis.  We have pulled together over the past two years to fundamentally change the direction of our Nation in a most historic way.  We will have to shore up and reinforce this collective strength and unity.  In doing so, we have to push out and stomp out those things that, whether intentionally or otherwise, keep us apart.

We Americans are strangers to America.  We have treated her as fragmented, instead of whole- as one.  What we as a country really need is to then reinvent how we see History- as one thread.  We do not know enough about the details of who and what has made this country what it is today.  For the most part, Black or not.

I so motion for the eradication of Black History Month, to be replaced by American History Month, a time when we consciously push to the deepest corners of knowledge and history to raise the people, experiences, and defining moments of the past which made our country what it is today, and the moments of the present, which carry us into a collective future.

Is there a second?

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. Jack Mayne permalink
    February 1, 2009 10:14 am

    As the former editor of the West Seattle Herald, I followed your blog because it was factual (sure, editorial too, but based on facts) and you are a great writer. The comments on Black History month are right on. We will never be a nation until we think as a nation, good, bad and horrible. Keep at it Sable

  2. Sable permalink
    February 1, 2009 10:19 am

    Thanks Jack. Your comments are appreciated.

  3. heather barr permalink
    February 1, 2009 3:15 pm

    Amen, Sable, beautifully put, as always.
    I can’t deal with the compartmentalization of Black History.
    I hate the confinement of the conversation and the limited 28 day acknowledgment of the important role and impact black people have every day in this country. I really don’t get its segregation from the bigger framework of American History. But I love this quote:
    “The events which transpired five thousand years ago,
    five years ago or five minutes ago, have determined
    what will happen five minutes from now; five years
    from now or five thousand years from now.
    All history is a current event.”
    – Dr John Henrik Clarke –

  4. Sable permalink
    February 1, 2009 3:19 pm

    Agree, agree, AGREE! Love JHC!

  5. me11owdrama permalink
    February 1, 2009 8:42 pm

    Great Post! So True!!!

  6. February 2, 2009 11:35 am

    I couldn’t agree with you more. I know my kids were bored to tears with the token “black historical figures” and the teachers had to have been too.

  7. February 3, 2009 12:28 pm

    I TOTALLY disagree with you, Sable. Black History Month’s self-otrasization actually even more effectively justifies its existence. Black History Month exists because many of the feats and accomplishments of Black people were/are ignored by the masses. Without the push of so many people fighting for the recognition of what may have been lost, many of the facts and figures most of us know as common American historical information would remain hidden.

    I DO agree though, that Black History is American History and should not need a special month for recognition. However, given in the world we live in today of sensationalism and minimalism (yes, there isn’t much room in the middle), Black History Month must be a part of Black History Month as a supplement.

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