Tue 3 Feb, 2009
Tags: Black history month, History, Slavery
I have very mixed feelings about the designation of February as “Black History Month,” despite the opportunities it presents for those of us who regularly make public appearances to discuss our nation’s history of slavery and discrimination and its impact on our society today.
I always appreciate the opportunity to speak about the story of the DeWolf family and the legacy of our nation’s history of slavery and discrimination. Spreading the message of this blog (and of Traces of the Trade) is important to me, and Black History Month programs generally offer a positive context in which to bring this message to the middle school, high school, and college students who are usually my favorite audiences.
In short, I strongly support efforts to teach our children the full history of the United States, including the role of black Americans and such related topics as slavery and discrimination, and to encourage children to explore the meaning of this history for our society today.
However, I tend to side with those who believe that “Black History Month” usually results in limited exposure to a speaker or two, or to a brief unit on isolated topics in black history, rather than to a comprehensive curriculum about the African-American experience. What I find particularly damaging, moreover, is the pigeon-holing of “black history” into a single month and its treatment as a specialized topic, rather than as an integral part of American history.
As I often tell audiences, especially of younger people, the history of American slavery and discrimination isn’t black history, and it can’t be considered apart from the rest of the American story.
In other words, this is our shared history.
As usual, Renee, one of my favorite bloggers, addressed this issue with passion and clarity this morning at Womanist Musings. She explained that she wasn’t going to be offering a celebratory post about Black History Month, because “celebrating a false feel good month is not my idea of treating Blacks as equals in society.”
As harsh as her language on this subject may be, Renee backs up her words with her usual reasoned analysis. Here are excerpts from her blog entry:
Black History month gives people an excuse to claim tolerance and understanding without doing any real work to change the ways in which the races interact. [During February,] people will briefly acknowledge the contributions of blacks and then return to privileging whiteness in every single social institution.
“Imagine if you had a white month”, is what gets repeated continuously during the month of February. The fact that every month is white history month gets ignored.
If Black History and accomplishments were truly appreciated we would not need a month to celebrate them; it would be integrated into our lives in the natural course of events.
This blog is about engaging in conversations and I believe that is the best approach to breaking down the walls that continue to divide us from one another.
I particularly appreciate Renee’s optimistic approach to a situation she finds so grim. She is candid in saying that she believes whiteness is privileged throughout our society and that only lip-service is usually paid to black history and accomplishments. Yet her proposed solution privileges constructive dialogue across separated groups, and her vision for the future would lead us to the integration of the black experience into our shared understanding of ourselves and our society.