Settling the Black History Month Controversy

Aicha Ly Opinion Editor

Recently, someone asked me “What is the purpose of Black history month? Black history is a part of all history and if we are trying to overcome racism through unity isn’t it counterproductive to discriminate against other races by differentiating one month specifically for Black people?” This is not the first time I have heard this question. To some, who believe they are colorblind when it comes to race and think this is the best approach to peace, Black history month is unnecessary and possibly even racist. Therefore, when faced with the existence of this month, one question comes to mind: why?

This is a very thought provoking and relevant question. In my eyes, the answer lies in the education system. Quite a bit of Black history is whitewashed in the sense that Black history is oversimplified. From K-12 in the United States, Black history is seemingly minimized and taught as a repeated cycle of same events: slavery and the civil rights movement. While these events are very important, they are not the only parts of Black history yet very little more seems to be taught in depth if anything at all when it comes to Black people. What about Black achievements beyond slavery and the civil rights movements such as the Harlem Renaissance and the Haitian Revolution? What about events such as the Tulsa Massacre? Why does there seem to be very little discussion over the importance, realities and involvement of Black people in the world wars and other wars? What about explanations of colorism and texturism that reveal why hair is so important to Black people, what protective styles are, and why copying these protective styles as a non-Black person is considered cultural appropriation due to cultural and historical significance? Why is there not more discussion in schools regarding the connection between post-slavery oppression of Black people, socioeconomics and how this relates to mass incarceration? What about the different types of racism such as symbolic racism, or even the difference between racism and prejudice? This is very relevant to the Black community but applies to the broader category of people of color, and people in general, as well which emphasizes its importance as a topic that should be learned.

The lack of depth in Black history education is why Black history month is so important. Every other month of the year, Black history is seemingly glossed over. The result and implications? As a consequence of this, the characters of Black people are negatively stereotyped for issues that disproportionately impact Black people by people who are not informed on the factors that lead up to these observations or issues. Furthermore, Black people are generalized as a monolith which perpetuates a cycle of ignorance. For example, the terms “Black” and “African American” are often incorrectly used interchangeably. “Black” is a race whereas “African American” is an ethnicity; African Americans are the descendants of slaves in the United States whose ethnicity is attached to a continent rather than a country or specific countries since they do not know exactly where they come from due to slavery. Even if they do find out through DNA tests, they have a different culture from their ancestral country of origin due to the history they have with slavery. African Americans are a unique group within the Black diaspora; there are many other ethnicities that exist in the United States and around the world within the Black race. Examples include Nigerians, Jamaicans, Senegalese people, and more. Just like Chinese people are just one ethnicity out of many Asians; it would be wrong to assume all Asians are Chinese. It is not fair to group all of us into one group, because it minimizes the significance Black people have in society and history as well as the diversity of the Black community. Black history month is the shortest month of the year, which is a controversy of its own, and is an important month to have because the emphasis on exploring Black history in addition to the richness, accomplishments, complexities and diversity of the Black community like we do year round when it comes to white people is a way to ensure the Black community does not get ignored and lost as time progresses. 

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