I'm a little bit of a nerd about Black History Month. I enjoy reading and sharing the facts and contemplating my role in it all. But I never considered it a moment specifically for Black Americans to be proud; I thought it was something for all Americans to be excited about. After all, don't people of all races & ethnicities love peanut butter and blood transfusions? (George Washington Carver & Charles Drew respectively)
Well, I learned that everyone doesn't see it that way. So, A Word or Three is here to clarify a few things:
Brief Brief History
Black History Month is the child of Negro History Week, a celebration pioneered by Carter G. Woodson for the sake of informing Americans (all, not just Black Americans) about Blacks' contributions, something that had traditionally been excluded from history books. February was chosen as the month, in honor of President Lincoln and Frederick Douglass' birthday.
Why BHM Rocks for Everybody
- It contributes to our "melting pot" lore. In a recent speech, President Obama said, "We are a nation that says out of many, we are one." And while in practice this doesn't always happen, America tries. But for us to melt into this great-tasting stew, we can't leave any of the ingredients out! The carrot must have respect for the onion. Ok... this metaphor is getting ridiculous, but you get my point.
- An incomplete history isn't history at all. Suppose I decided not to discuss or respect our Founding Fathers because many of them owned slaves? Suppose I decided that I'd rather not respect the writers of the Constitution because the original version considered me 3/5ths of a person and rendered me ineligible to vote for 3 different reasons? (I don't own property; I'm not white, and I'm not a man.) American history books have this peculiar habit of putting "Moments in Black History" or "Women in History" in the literal margins of the book versus including them as part of the main body of text. Wouldn't it be odd if history books had a special highlighted section entitled "White Men Who Made History" ? I believe the intent of these highlights and "footnote style" is to give Black History a special shout out, kind of like Black History Month, but it also creates the subconscious idea that Black achievements are secondary to the main story. In reality, without Blacks' contributions in the fields of education, science, fine arts, politics, humanities, and et cetera, America would be a very different place. Black History isn't an aside to the American story; it's an integral part of the major plot!
- Black History is an inspirational story of triumph despite overwhelming adversity. If you still haven't committed to believing that Black History is for you, consider this: It's about the stuff that makes for good movies! Slavery, Jim Crow, the Klan, unequal education opportunities, institutional racism, lynchings, and just plain old mean prejudice are a few of the reasons why life for Black Americans has been -and continues to be- a tumultuous ride. When you consider that at different times in America it was illegal for Black Americans to read and write; that a wolf whistle at a woman could get you castrated & lynched; that the National Guard had to accompany a little girl to her equal education, that almost all 60% of former inmates exonerated through DNA are African-American men, that even today, Blacks with comparable education and experience receive less pay than their White counterparts, it really is inspirational!
So let's celebrate this month. Let's celebrate the achievements of Malcolm, Tubman, and DuBois. Let's celebrate the achievements of those whose names aren't etched in history books. Let's celebrate the achievements of people who sacrificed so that it's ok for me to write to you. Let's celebrate the achievements of our fellow Americans. It's patriotic.
In honor of Black History Month, my February posts will honor those you may or may not have heard of. What will you do? Share.