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Why I HATE Black History Month

February 1, 2011

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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23 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.

  8. February 1, 2011 11:34 am

    I feel you on your stance here, and while eliminating Black History Month can be seen as a step in adjusting to the times of today, I still don’t think eliminating it would motivate people to include our history with American History.

    Black History Month is pretty much what we make it. If people want it to be a joke, then it will be a joke. If people want to use it as a time to focus in on our accomplishments, achievements, and contributions to history, then they will do so. I fully understand why you view it the way you do. As long as I’ve known you, you have made it a mission to present our people, as well as all people, in a positive light each and every day. I totally understand where you are coming from.

    In a sense, I think this is yet another example of where we are as a society. Kids (younger and even into teen years) are ready to see past differences in color, IMO. Gender is totally different, which is something I’d like to see highlighted (if you’ve done so, point me in the direction). If Black History Month was eliminated, I don’t think kids in schools will raise hell about it. It will be the adults that continue to hinder progress. If adults would adapt to what is going on, and include our history with American History and implement it seamlessly into their lesson plans and ciricullum (sp), then we would be fine. The question is…will that ever happen?

  9. February 1, 2011 12:35 pm

    Perhaps it’s because I’m an historian who documents and helps publicize the importance of African American history, I think this post is much too dismissive. It’s not that the commodification and trivialization of black history does not take place. It’s that I think that’s the cost of breakthrough into the mainstream of American popular culture.

    There is no other group– American Indian, Chicano/a, Asian, Women, Gay/ Lesbian– that has been so successful as African Americans at establishing an annual event during which even the most Eurocentric and conservative instructors feel OBLIGED to mention that there are alternative narratives than the liberal, mainstream assumption that U.S. history is the inevitable march of progress for everyone who lives here. That this message is then lost in tokenism is, I think, unsurprising. But to then suggest that tokenism is the ONLY thing that happens during Black History Month is dead wrong.

    Across the country, Black History Month is a moment when visionary teachers cutting against the grain of the institutions that they work in have the most support for bringing the voices (sometimes through visits) of activists into their classrooms. It is a time when unconventional employees of mainstream museums and publications have the most latitude to explore issues of racism and racial justice. It is a moment when community-based institutions– especially African American arts, culture, and heritage organizations– can sometimes reach new audiences and gain new members and supporters. That this support has racist roots in the exclusion of African American heritage from mainstream cultural institutions is less important, I think, than the opportunity to cut against that exclusion.

    Here in Seattle, for instance, there is a community-based history conference focused on African American history sponsored by AAAHRP, programming by the CD Forum for Arts and Ideas and the African American Museum, programming by the AFL-CIO King County Labor Council to reflect upon MLK’s support for workers and economic justice, and frequent use of the Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project to connect African American history to the Pacific Northwest. Indeed, a number of the people interviewed by the Civil Rights Project have increased speaking opportunities in the community during February– and they are hardly sellouts telling a sanitized history. University Baptist Church is even doing a series on anti-racism and local, multiracial movements for justice.

    None of this invalidates your point. But instead of just dismissing the value of black history month, you might want to instead treat its limitations as signals of the unfinished nature of the struggle for justice in the U.S..

  10. February 1, 2011 2:25 pm

    “But instead of just dismissing the value of black history month, you might want to instead treat its limitations as signals of the unfinished nature of the struggle for justice in the U.S..”

    I addressed that in the piece I wrote. Repeatedly.

  11. February 1, 2011 3:08 pm

    I think it’s two separate steps. I think the rewriting of history text books comes first, and then perhaps the perceived need for a special month won’t be so strong. Our history books are nothing more than cultural injustice in print. It’s not just “us” that gets left out of the “American Story”, it’s damn near every other minority group as well.

  12. Black Man permalink
    February 1, 2011 4:47 pm

    I’m glad that this is just your opinion. I thought this was going to be a great article. But I was wrong. You would like to chg black History to American History? WOW! American was built on LIES. I can’t even stand when i have to fill out an application and check the box that says African-American. Both are named after white men. it’s easy for someone like yourself to say that since you went and married the slave masters son. Sorry i’m getting the subject at hand. In this day and age. We as parents need to take back control of our peoples Education. Maybe you and I got a watered down HIS-STORY about the achievements of our people. So if parents desire for there children to know what their HISTORY is. They should take charge. Should we leave it up to the public school system to teach our kids who their Grandfather or Great Grandfather was? Or should be left up to the parent to teach their children who their mom and dads were, their accomplishment. NO, i didn’t think so. Teach your own dam children about their HISTORY. The public school system was setup to keep black children slaves to the system. You educated ones i feel our part of the dam problem too. I’m done. Everyday is black history for me and my family. Unfortunately for me every time i wake up from this nightmare and look in the mirror. I’m still BLACK! So the nightmare continues.

  13. February 1, 2011 6:33 pm

    Thanks for your words. I am a children’s librarian and agree with you about looking deeply into American History. To relegate Black History to one month is to marginalize a primary part of American History and degrades the truth.

  14. February 2, 2011 1:32 pm

    If you think you are not dismissing the value of Black History Month by calling for its abolition, and by saying that it “has become nothing more than a token,” then I don’t know what to say.

    But I do find it telling that you’re using your bully pulpit to rail against tokenism, instead of also publicizing the things that are happening locally or nationally that are most worth supporting.

    As for your dream that “American History Month” would include African American history that is somehow less tokenizing than that presented as part of Black History Month? I find that about as likely as the notion that we would learn more about MLK by abolishing the federal holiday devoted to him.

  15. Natalia permalink
    February 2, 2011 5:02 pm

    Excuse me Trevor Griffey, but who in the hell are you and why in the hell would anyone take your condescending and sanctimonious comment with anything but the grain of salt that it so richly deserves?

    Mr. “Historian”, can you link me to YOUR articles that have covered our community? And I’ll settle for anything, although I would prefer coverage of our real issues, not some pre-conceived and mistaken notion about what other thinks Blacks should feel and what opinions we should have. Go ahead, lets look at the past year. I’ve read you. I know they can’t be found. Now I’ve liked and actually financially supported what you’ve done in the past, but I can clearly see that when you are out of your element, you are monumentally out.

    So lets just call your sideline critisism exactly what it is – a white man who wants to beef up his minority cred by criticizing a Black woman who doesn’t fit your uneducated and biased view of the criticism she should hold.

    Or maybe you’re just mad that she still has her site up and running and you are once again relegated to the role of commenter. Missing YOUR bully pulpit much?

    Why don’t you click through a few more links on this site and see what calling out and fighting against the marginalization of Blacks in our society is REALLY about. Then come back and please comment on topic and with some sense (although you would be better off spending less time memorizing organizational acronyms and just reading for a while). Maybe instead of trying to help us Black folk by shouting down our opinions, you should educate yourself a bit more and try some understanding.

    Because if you can’t begin to understand that we don’t prefer our equality to be segregated, you really don’t have much to say.

  16. February 2, 2011 8:24 pm

    Tonight I was on the Black Odd Couple’s brilliant radio show, and we talked about what else, Black History Month. For those who want me to expound on my position, check it out: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/tboc/2011/02/03/the-black-odd-couple-29-super-snow-sable-solicitation The conversation starts at the 41 minute mark.

  17. Down With Black History Month permalink
    February 2, 2011 8:37 pm

    Hi Sable-

    I’ve heard you deliver this commentary on radio, and I think the experience is different then reading it. When I heard this on the radio, last year I think it was, it sounded like your idea of American History month was given in jest- sort of tongue in cheek. I got what you were saying then and i get it now.

    I agree with your position. Even if I didn’t agree, I would still think this topic is worthy of a collective, thoughtful conversation and I think, even those who disagree can do so without being rude and condescending. I think it says quite a bit about where we are in dealing with race and privilege when a prominent white man comes on this site and talks to you like you are a second class citizen of inferior intelligence simply because he doesn’t like what you have to say. As a white person, I know it’s not my place to “approve” of who you are or what you do, but I only know that because I personally care to understand how I, as a white person, effect the people of color around me. We can only hope Mr. Griffey learns to do the same at some point in his life, as clearly his work on the labor/civil rights project has done nothing for his sensitivity and awareness of his whiteness.

    Thank you for creating a starting place for this conversation. You do great work.

  18. Black and Proud permalink
    February 2, 2011 8:39 pm

    Heard you on the radio tonight Sabe- great job.

  19. netabeta permalink
    February 2, 2011 11:02 pm

    I just listened to the show, the Black Odd Couple. LOVED the conversation you all had on this topic. Very interesting to hear Wise (sp?) sort of change his perspective as you guys talked more and more about it. I laughed I cried, I shook my head and nodded it even more.

  20. CivilRightOn permalink
    February 2, 2011 11:06 pm

    Whoah. That’s pretty much all I can say about how some people choose to conduct themselves in the face of disagreement.

  21. Rachel M. permalink
    February 2, 2011 11:35 pm

    Yeah Sable, you don’t do SH*T with your website, you neeeeeeeever- wait, let me get this right- you NEVER use this website as a means for “publicizing the things that are happening locally or nationally that are most worth supporting.”

    Barry Massy- toooooooottaly NOT worth supporting
    Gun violence- who gives a sh*t
    Racism- overrated. you could move on already.
    Sexism- I’m sure Trevor, as a man, will tell you THAT’S a waste of time.
    Police accountability? Why you always bringing up old sh*t?
    Gay Bullying? Hey, all good fags can handle it, right?
    Government accountability? laaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaame.

    I think you should take some time to reflect on what a massive WASTE this website and the air you breathe is- but hold your breath while you’re doing it so you don’t waste OUR precious oxygen.

    Pffsh. The nerve of you Sable, the gotdamm nerve.

  22. February 16, 2011 6:47 pm

    so agreed. black history month has been “meh” for me for years.
    here’s why.

    My issue with Black History reminds me of Bill Maher’s issue with American complacency. As Black people we triumph over struggles overcome i.e. slavery and Jim Crow. As Americans we continue to tout the fact we were the first to put a man on the moon. What have we done since our first “sputnik” moment. Right now our President has pressured all Americans to innovate after constantly being one upped by China, India, Brazil, and South Korea. As Blacks I have yet to see the same push to one up the Civil Rights movement. I have yet to see the same push to take advantage of all the rights and freedoms fought for in that movement.

    At times it seems that as Blacks our only innovation is in the arts and I’m using that term liberally. Time and again we prove we can make music that’s H.A.M. Time and again we prove we can put out a YouTube video to make everybody dance. Time and again we prove we can drive a whole race of people to the movie theatre to see the latest hood flick; Tyler Perry approved or not. Time again we prove we can change the English language with the silliest of catch phrases thought of on somebody’s mama’s front stoop… i.e. Becky. In all this artful innovation true progress has yet to follow. In all of this artful innovation true accomplishment has yet to follow. I’m sorry Grammy’s and Oscar’s do not apply my love for Monster’s Ball aside.

    http://changecomesslow.com/2011/02/01/celebrating-the-past/

  23. Michael Taylor-Judd permalink
    February 4, 2013 3:20 pm

    Doesn’t that actually support Sable’s point? Unless you are lucky enough to be taken to a march or event in honor of MLK on that day, what is the holiday other than just an excuse to take a day off from work and school? (Although it could be worse, there’s no mattress sales or Twilight Zone marathons like on some other holidays.)

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