Black History Month Isn't Just About Slavery or the Civil Rights Movement
Some wonder if it’s still necessary to designate a special month to celebrate Black History Month. Yes, it’s still necessary. Mostly because there’s not much of a celebration going on as far as I can tell, but rather an education of the same old Black History facts that the same old teachers have been teaching to
the same old students.
We don’t have a cable subscription in our house but I’m willing to bet that LMN will play two of the three movies in its collection that feature African American actresses. USA, TNT, and ABC Family will play a couple of Will Smith’s or Denzel Washington‘s blockbusters. Probably Malcolm X, Ali, Ray — you know, to score points because they’re based on historical figures, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Men in Black or Bad Boyz II made the cut. CNN will undoubtedly air Black in America a couple of times in February. And these networks probably think they’re doing something, too. They’re not.
While Black entertainment matters and matters specifically to African Americans who want to see themselves on the big screen, Black history is about educating All Americans about the history of Blacks in America and the invaluable contributions they’ve made despite being an oppressed people. BH isn’t just about slavery, Reconstruction in the South, the Jim Crow era, and the Civil Rights Movement. These four blemishes on American history involve African Americans so it’s important that we really understand what life was like for them during those time periods and that we really understand the aftermath of systematic oppression. But this can’t be the entire lesson because we are so much more than this and I do not foresee a time when it’s not critical to teach every color boy and girl the best parts of Black history.
We were more than slaves. We are more than victims. We don’t sit around shucking and jiving. Our children excel in schools when schools excel in teaching and they’re successful in higher education even though Duke would beg to differ. They don’t need to be janitors at their schools. They’re not going to all grow up to be gangsters, video vixens or hoodrats. Not every Black father abandons his children. Not every Black mother lives off the system. We don’t all live in the ghetto. We’ve worked hard and continue to work hard as mothers, fathers, librarians, domestic workers, farmers, teachers, nurses, scientists, doctors, inventors, writers, musicians, painters and politicians. The best way I know to honor the men and women who made contributions and advancements despite being considered three-fifths of a person is to educate people about us all.
We don’t need to pretend that we have evolved beyond needing the month. We haven’t. We also need to start learning about Irish Americans (I live in Boston), Mexican Americans, Chinese Americans, Native Americans, Korean Americans, Japanese Americans, Puerto Ricans, and Hawaiians. I don’t know what Hawaii was like before it became a state. I’m not even sure how that happened. Nor did I graduate from high school fully understanding how Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory but not yet a state. There’s enough room in our minds to learn about everyone’s history.
Will we ever get to a point where we can stop labeling people as African American scientists, African American artists, and African American politicians? Will we ever get to a point where people just know that George Washington Carver was the best thing to ever happen to sliced bread? Will he ever just be an American scientist? A peanut butter lover?Maybe all the emphasis on race detracts us from this goal but maybe this is just one of steps we have to take the get there.