Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Continuing the Conversation: Black History Month

A few weeks ago I wrote a short post asking what my readers thought about Black History Month. What is the purpose of the month, and has it been effective?

I received mixed responses, which were a good representation of the different conversations I’ve been a part of, as well as the articles and interviews I’ve read about Black History Month. There seems to be no consensus about whether Black History Month is a good thing, or whether it has been effective.

Black History Month was first Negro History Week, started by Carter G. Woodson, a historian and author. He felt that the history of Black folks in the U.S. wasn’t being represented, and he hoped Negro History Week would be a tool for education. This began in 1926 and in 1976, Negro History Week was expanded to Black History Month. February was selected because it’s the month when Frederick Douglass & Abraham Lincoln were born (insert joke here about February also being the shortest month of the year).

NY Times article: 4 Years After Black History Panel’s Birth, Its Work Is Still Deferred

I was born in the late 1970’s, was a child of the 1980’s and a teen in the 1990’s. I don’t know what Black History Week/Month was like before then, or what impact it had on education and society. I can say that as a White, middle class girl in a mid-sized city in the Southern Midwest, I got a lot out of Black History Month. I can’t say I remember all the facts I was taught – just as I can’t remember all the facts I was taught in my “regular” history lessons. However, what did stick was the idea that there are people in my community, country and world, who haven’t been given credit for the positive work they’ve accomplished, and whose oppression has been downplayed and overlooked. I probably can’t give all the credit to Black History Month; I seem to be drawn to these issues no matter who is involved. Still, Black History Month made an impression on me and I know it helped introduce the idea to a lot of my peers that the average American isn’t hearing the full story of what went on in our nation’s history.

Is that all Black History Month was supposed to do? Maybe so. Did Woodson know it could only be a place to start? Did he believe his week would be able to turn our society upside down and fix all the ills we have in regard to racism? I don’t know the answer to these questions. I do know that Black History Month hasn’t fixed everything.

So – where did Black History Month go wrong? Or, where did WE go wrong with Black History Month? If Black History Month was never supposed to be capable of fixing all our racism issues, what else needs to happen? Is Black History Month actually holding us back from certain progress, because people think it’s proof we’ve learned all we need to learn?

I look forward to exploring these questions in the future, here on my blog. I hope you’ll join the conversation!

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