I have heard cleric types, conservative Whites, and even Blacks say that there should be no Black History Month, because if we are truly to be colourblind, we should realise that the whole concept of a Black History Month is racist in and of itself. They go on to argue that if there were such a thing as a White History Month, Black people everywhere would be marching in the street crying foul. They say that that is how many Whites feel when we talk of a Black History Month.
The idea was created in the late 60s or early 70s to celebrate people who would have been long forgotten had the mainstream establishment had had their way. If it were not for Black History Month, how would we ever have learned that Garrett Morgan invented the stop light, or that Madame C. J. Walker invented the curling iron. As a history buff who minored in the subject, I know one basic thing about the discipline: History is an account that is often subject to change. How the story ends up being spun depends, in large part of who is writing it.
For example, I was thoroughly disgusted when I heard that, from about the early Sixties on back, people actually believed that slavery was in fact not as bad as the media makes it to be. It was in fact horrendous. And it is my hope that from 1977 on forward, stories like the late Alex Haley’s “Roots,” and 1995’s “Amistad” have changed that perception.
So what Black History Month is, it’s a celebration of Black History told by the ones who lived through it and their ancestors, as opposed to the Alistair Cooke types offering their armchair analysis of what really happened. It would be a lot like me saying that Hitler didn’t mistreat the Jews that badly. Imagine the outcry that I would get. I would probably be banned from every website there is if I were to write such tripe.
Black History then, is a celebration of the truth–the ups and downs of a group of people, warts and all. It is an account of the hard times and how the people that went through them coped with them. For example, I remember the tears my mother shed as she watched people on “Roots” being beat within an inch of their lives. I remember being horrified as I watched Kunta Kinte being told who he was, how he had to unlearn his own identity, and was forced to take on the identity that his owner dictated, “Toby.”
Yet I have heard black people today say, “We don’t need a Black History Month now. It only continues to perpetuate the problem. The racial divide now is a thing of the past. We should forgive and move on.” After all, we have a Black President!
Yes, we have a Black Chief Executive. However, there are those who have a secret resentment for his position. There are people–lawmakers–who tacitly refuse to accept or respect HIS leadership. But that is another paper altogether.
Yet the people who talk about moving forward actually have a point. We cannot carry the wounds of the past and refuse to forgive. Nonforgiveness leads to lack of success. We can’t continue to hold the sins of people long dead against their descendants. And we must posthumously forgive their foreparents for their many sins against us.
But we must not forget,either. It is not something we can sweep under the rug and refuse to deal with. The dialogue must happen if there is to be racial reconciliation. It will take more than the reality of a Barack Obama in the White House to bring this about. And Black History Month, indeed, provides an excellent opportunity to have such conversations. If such discussions do not occur, we run the risk of allowing the atrocities of slavery and Jim Crow to happen again in another generation (maybe not ours.). For as it has been said time and time again, “Those who do not learn from history tend to repeat the same mistakes.”
Do we want to see a repeat? No. So how do we remedy the past? Do we carry placards and demand reparations? No, I would never advocate. We should talk about it and we should invite Whites to the table if true healing is to begin. Abolishing Black History Month and automatically assimilating with the majority population, however, is not the answer, either.
Moreover, Black History Month is a celebration of diversity. What a colourblind society does is to ignore those differences, pretending they don’t exist. In fact, African-Americans are a people with a very unique culture that is worthy of celebrating. After all, we have a Hispanic-American month, a Native American month, and we have Greektown, a Women’s History Month, and we have Gay Awareness week. However, whenever African Americans want to do anything to celebrate their culture, you want to label it racist?
That notion, in and of itself, is racist.