Monday, April 14, 2008

The non-useful purpose of Black History Month

(Article I did about Black History Month for the Dakota Student.)

February brings us Black History Month. Since it's inception in 1926 (when it was originally called Negro History Week) it has strived to spread awareness about African American history. But as time passes is Black History Month still serving it's purpose?

The idea behind Black History month was to raise awareness about black history in a time when it was hardly being discussed. This not only served to spread racial awareness of past prejudices, but also to inform the public of black history that wasn't being told.

The founder of Negro History Week, Carter G. Woodson, said that he looked forward to the time when it would not be necessary to set aside a "week" to call attention to the contributions of Negroes to the life of this country.

He fervently hoped that soon, the history of African Americans would become an integral part of American history and would be observed throughout the year. Later in his years he expressed the hope that Negro History Week would outlive it's usefulness.

So the question is, have we outlived its usefulness? If the effort of BHM is to create awareness of black history, and if we have done that, is there any reason to keep "celebrating" this holiday? And if there hasn't been a change in awareness, is there something else we could be doing that might raise overall awareness more effectively?

To me the whole month is superficial. What happens after February? Are we still allowed to celebrate black history, even though the U.S. Government didn't designate it? The effort shouldn't be focused on one month, because black history isn't just one month.

It seems that there is an unspoken agreement that our country can simply acknowledge a group of people for a month and forget about them for the rest of the year. This way, policy makers can simultaneously ease their guilty conscience over their lack of action to address the severe racial inequalities that still exist in our country, AND feel morally outraged (not to mention justified) when denying minorities who petition for redress the rights they are entitled to.

When we acknowledge someone of a different race by "celebrating" their heritage in some forced government ritual, we're actually celebrating the history of a minority, because they're a minority group. Instead, we should be celebrating their history because we're proud of that history and the diversity the group brings to the American experiment.

And this isn't only concerning BHM. Women, Jews, Hispanics, Asian, gay, elderly, and differently abled people all have a month.

What about American Indian Heritage Month? I bet you don't know which month that is. Some of them even have the same month! How will we ever decide which heritage to celebrate on a given day if they both use the same month?

Here is a crazy idea. Maybe we could get away from celebrating things on certain months and celebrate them year round? So instead of reading about George Washington Carver in February (because your teacher wants to pound some awareness in your head), why don't we read about him in March? Or maybe we could study Martin Luther King Jr. when it's not his birthday or in February.

As Americans we have to get away from the division of race and accept that we are all AMERICANS. Black History Month should be celebrated year round, because black history is AMERICAN history. And no you shouldn't feel bad for forgetting about BHM, because black history doesn't disappear on February 28 (29th if leap year), never mind what Al Sharpton might say, it's still around trust me. If we begin focusing on people because of their merits, we will know when we have a country that has true racial awareness. Then we won't need Black History Month anymore, because, in recognizing the beautiful diversity of our country, we'll finally have an American History year.

Link to article.

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