Rethinking Black History Month

black-history-monthBy Elizabeth Turco — February is one of the most important months.

It signifies love, through Valentine’s Day.  It shows presidential spirit with George Washington and Abraham Lincoln celebrating birthdays and the annual celebration of Presidents Day. The Super Bowl happens in this month. It is the strange month with the extra day every four years. It gives hope as it is the first month where winter starts its end. Of all the things that make February great, however, there is one over which I am torn: Black History Month.

Now don’t get me wrong. I love celebrating African American culture and historical importance, especially in the classroom. I like that the culture gets a chance to celebrate and be emphasized instead of simply being forgotten and passed over.

However, I do not like the hidden message that the notion of Black History Month sends.

The tradition of Black History Month spans almost ninety years. Ninety years ago, America was at its peak of racism. Reconstruction movements were completely ended and all but forgotten about. The Civil Rights Movement had not yet started. What started as Black History Week was an attempt to emphasize and celebrate an oppressed culture. Sixty years later, as a part of the Civil Rights Movement, this celebration was lengthened to the entire month of February. African Americans had their chance to become better recognized and appreciated across the nation.

As a history teacher I was met with a mental conflict about how to approach this month. Should I go out of my way to teach the African American influence in history? Should I just keep going on as scheduled? I was uncertain of where to find the balance.

My semester curriculum includes African American history. To only cover it in depth in February would be impossible. The African American influence in history is just as significant as the white influence. To only tell a one sided story, regardless of the side, would be an incomplete picture. Racial tensions have marked this nation from the very beginning and white and African American relations are a constant.

To have one month set aside for the celebration of one culture, regardless of which one it is, to me, is wrong. While it is good to embrace diversity and learn more about others, it is bad to set them apart so strongly. Continuing Black History Month only continues segregation.

To have one month for African American history would imply that all eleven other months are for white history. African Americans represent more than 1/12 of American history. This also poses the question: African Americans get their own month, should every culture get their own month? While there are months for different heritages, they are not as well-known as Black History month, even though their history is important, too.  While the history of America is full of black and white racial issues, there are a variety of other races involved too. Dividing history by the race of the people participating in it only continues the separation between races, instead of bringing them closer together.

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