Black History: Extending the Conversation
“There shouldn’t be a Black History Month. We’re Americans, period.”
Actress and Fox News contributor Stacey Dash asserted this point in a conversation on the network’s show “Fox & Friends.” Media outlets like BET have responded negatively. However, some individuals, including actor Morgan Freeman, share her sentiment.
“You’re going to relegate my history to a month,” he said in an interview with “60 Minutes” in 2005. “I don’t want a black history month. Black history is American history.”
Dash echoed these sentiments when clarifying her statements on her blog.
“Black History should be a part of social studies and history curriculum everyday of every month of every year,” she wrote. “Our accomplishments cannot be limited to 28 days.”
In reality, both Freeman and Dash make logical points.
Black history is an integral part of American culture and has been for longer than some history books give it credit. One cannot paint a proper American landscape without the likes of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Louis Armstrong. There is no exhaustive list of all the black figures who have impacted this nation.
But history books only give part of the story.
The precursor to Black History Month was Negro History Week, established in 1926 to encourage the coordinated teaching of the history of black Americans in public schools. Initial reactions were mild at best, but it soon grew to gain enthusiastic responses from the black community until Black History Month took place in 1970.
It only took about 200-plus years to recognize the fact that black history was an integral a part of American history.
There is much more to the story of black history than what was listed above. We have the stories of Crispus Attucks, the first casualty of the Boston Massacre. We have Dred Scott, the slave who sued for his freedom and lost. We have George Washington Carver, the inventor who discovered the prevalent uses peanuts and sweet potatoes many people use today.
More importantly, we have so many people who may not be in the forefront of the public’s mind when it comes to black history.
That’s part of the reason why we have a Black History Month. Education of the accomplishments of black Americans was the backbone of the establishment, after all. Social perception of black people has come a long way since the colonial notion that they were 3/5 of a person.
But other races, ethnicities and groups as a whole have come a long way, too. So, as some might ask, why have a month to single out just what black people have done?
There are other months throughout the year that celebrate women’s history, LGBT pride and various races. This fact makes some pose the question as to why there isn’t, in turn, a white history month.
The answer to that question, though, gets a bit complicated.
Think a bit about the differences between the groups who have a dedicated pride or history month and white people as a whole. At a glance, the answer seems simple: there has never been a time where our culture has needed to remember the accomplishments and oppressions of white people because there is already a venue for that.
It’s called history class.
Some white people would come back with retorts about white oppression or about not having the ability to play the race card in conversations. And they aren’t wrong on either point.
But it brings up the differences between equality and fairness. Equality implies that everyone gets and gives an equal share, which is a beautiful ideal. Sometimes, though, equality isn’t equal when it comes to where people are to begin with. That’s where fairness comes into play, to make sure the end result is a level playing field.
Take the concept of the race card, for example. Whenever the concept of race comes up when talking about differential treatment, someone would inevitably say they “played a race card” to get it. Some white individuals feel as if it’s not a luxury they’re afforded for special treatment.
In reality, though, the race card isn’t a privilege. For some time, it was a near necessity for some to get a hint of equal treatment because of the unfair treatment they’ve experienced.
But, when it comes down to it, the race card is a construct used in a moment of color consciousness (where people emphasize perceived difference when faced with guilt of perpetuating racial discrimination).
It isn’t a get out of jail free card. It’s a check to existing privilege.
After all, historically, white people have never needed a race card to be on an even playing field.
In the graduate-level Social and Cultural Foundations of Psychology course, students learn concepts of cultural sensitivity and competence needed to be an effective counselor or researcher. They learn how to walk in the shoes of others before making assumptions so we can all reach a common ground.
What better way to reach that place than to show people the paths we, as people, have taken?
That’s really what Black History Month is about – reminding everybody about the path black people have taken to try and get to common ground. It’s not about excluding other races. It’s not about white bashing. It’s not about anything but educating people and starting conversations.
As mentioned in the first piece in this series, racism and discrimination are still a part of society today to varying degrees. Living a “colorblind” life limits the view of true range of humanity. We are all flesh and blood, but the learned social atmosphere has made difference equate to negativity.
But occurrences like Black History Month and diversity fairs are around to show that difference is not negative, nor is it an attempt to overthrow an established entity. They’re here to provide fair representation and emphasize the beauty of difference.
They’re here to tell people that black history and all other forms of cultural history are part of American history.
As February comes to close, there is still much to learn about black history. But we shouldn’t limit learning about a diverse and storied culture to just 28 – sometimes 29 – days. Diversity awareness is year-round attempt to construct that fair and equal common place we all seek as we walk our different paths toward it.
But we can’t break that ground without knowing the roads that brought us there.