I’m always a little surprised when a -very brave- white person will say something to me along the lines of “why is there a black history month?” While I’m sometimes surprised, the questions are welcomed. In my work with many black and white college students over the last 14 years I’ve learned that white people don’t have enough safe spaces among blacks to ask what can be perceived as the “dumb questions,” and blacks don’t have enough soul space and supportive environments to be able to handle these conversations. And what happens, is a usually a big, irreparable hot mess.
I could give you a lot of links and quote a lot of people about why Black History Month is important and I could make myself sound as official as possible but I decided to give it a rest and just give you my plain old opinion.
If America is your residence and you have to ask, you are probably not in a healthy place regarding African-Americans. That’s not a terrible thing, it’s just something to consider for personal growth. Every person of every race, ethnicity and culture has their own STAGE 1 in understanding differences, and though sometimes painful, is not insurmountable…and Lord knows, I don’t judge you for asking. I have asked many of my own “dumb” questions to safe white, Asian & Latino folks.
Black History Month is important because black people are important. In the same way, the history of any and every people group on the planet is important, because we are all important.
Black is beautiful, y’all. (Which does not negate the beauty of any one else on the planet, of course). Image Credit
Why do should we get our own special month?
To put it frankly, ALL the other months are white history month. All across the country there is no shortage of white history lessons, often not even historically accurate. I didn’t hear the real story of Native-Americans nor the slave trade until college in a specific history class. It’s appalling what kids are NOT being taught these days. I’ve heard before that most other progressive countries in the world do more teaching about the slave trade before 6th grade than the US does. It’s convenient for us to have amnesia, but unacceptable.
Additionally, without some specialized focus on the celebration of black history much of the positive impact of African-Americans on American history would be completely shoved under the rug. We need to remember. We need to.
It’s known world-wide that African-Americans are portrayed in the most horrible ways across all manner of media for over a hundred years now. I saw this when I visited Kenya for a summer. It was mortifying. This constant media abuse pushes and shoves into a stereotypical media-made bubble of “they are all this,” and “they are all that.” That affects black people. It affects black children with a level of internalized racism that is beyond what any of us understand. It’s beyond a study. Growing up for me, I thought being black meant I was automatically stupid, less than white people, inferior and would likely never end up doing any thing of value. A white person told me that face-to-face on more than one occasion, but even if he hadn’t I got that message everywhere. It was ingrained in little me, and I still fight internalized racism to this day.
Black History Month helps –a bit– to communicate the inherent value and worth of a new people group (less than 300 years old) who has been told since our meager beginnings that we are animals, slaves, evil, dirty, promiscuous, violent and unworthy. We have been beaten, murdered, treated inhumanely, hunted, red-lined, imprisoned, mocked and much more. I think it’s okay, don’t you, for us to celebrate how awesome we are as people who have managed to overcome the impossible?
Even though I’m technically biracial, I’ve always been proud to have 100% ownership into my black heritage because I respect African-Americans like no one else on the planet (though I can assure I have a deep and growing love for whites, Latino’s, Asian-Americans and so many different people groups I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know personally through my work with a very diverse national organization).
We are just impossibly cool peeps, fighters, lovers with a stronger sense of community and relationship that is hard for outsiders to sometimes understand.
I believe strongly in celebrating Black History Month because I believe in the value of all people, and I believe white Americans –of all people– should be the FIRST people to be on board with the celebration of the efforts to honor this incredible group of people brought to this country not of our will and to be where we are now. (Obama, anyone?!?!)
So, please get to know some black folks of the last 200 years! Read some slavery stories online and cry! Mourn for what happened right here, right in your back yard! Celebrate the magnitude of the changes during the Civil Rights Movement! Listen to Dr. King’s messages on YouTube! Learn! Advocate! Grow!
In closing I would like to quote Jerry Maguire…
…I love black people!