Every February, Black History Month returns to inspirit black innovators and remind white America that black lives matter. Blissfully incognizant of their established privilege, white communities rally together and speak up to acknowledge, ignore or lament over the lack of a “White History Month”, despite the fact that:
1. “White” proves to be an ambiguous term that, rather than recognizing ethnicity, demonstrates a compliance with Anglo expectations (ex: Irish immigrants were not initially seen as white, though after successful assimilation, they now are.)
2. There are white history months in March, May and October.
Perhaps we need to revamp our high school history classes.
But before digressing to the myriad of problems in the American educational system, let’s return to the question that annually arises during this month: why?
Why does Black History Month matter in a colorblind era? In an America where race no longer matters—only to those who choose to recognize it?
Black History Month matters because history matters to a person’s sense of identity. Our histories help us to understand our present realities and shape our futures. Black kids in the United States are raised to look at themselves through a white gaze. And what does this white gaze so often see?
That black children can only aspire to be hyper-sexualized rappers or athletes.
That black men are criminals.
That black women are promiscuous.
That black people are lazy and unintelligent.*
What is this white gaze blind to?
That Africa had universities long before eurocentricity blinded mankind to the accomplishments and ethereal wonders of the Islamic Golden Age.
That the Western portrayal of Africa is promoted by those who stole resources from a continent for centuries and now pity its poverty.
That all American music is derived from the work of black artists—yet these movements are credited to the white artists who effectively seized their work and credit.
That American dance, cuisine, science, art and every sector of society has been perpetuated by black contributions that hardly ever make it to history books.
That Angela Davis was on the FBI watchlist for being an intellectual.
That Assata Shakur remains on the FBI most wanted list for being an activist.
That “radical” black political parties have been systematically dismantled by the U.S. government every single time they form.
And why is this relevant?
Because many of these individuals were seen as pioneers. They were innovators not only in these fields, but in communities that have been systemically oppressed since arriving in the United States. And I’m not only speaking about African Americans, but also African immigrants and first generation kids that also face anti-blackness in America.
They challenged that. They overcame that. And if they did not have access to African American history, without the knowledge that people before them had, they would be trapped within the vicious colonial paradigm of white supremacy.
Knowing that something is possible creates a world of difference for the self-esteem of an individual. And when black children are raised to hate themselves—because mainstream American ideology has always been reluctant to recognize black excellence—this affects the self-esteem of black American children. Every Person of Color is aware that their life in America would be easier if they were white. That thought alone is mentally exhausting and discouraging to any child, teen or adult.
Yet if black children were reminded, for more than twenty eight days, that kids like them grew up and achieved their goals in the face of adversity and discrimination, these children would experience the same encouragement any white child feels when looking at the histories of their studies.
It’s relevant because I had to seek all of the above information on my own. It was never taught to me in a classroom. And without the Internet, I would most likely have never had the resources to be able to do so.
But my generation was transitionary—black kids my age were still subjected to the same ill-informed portrayals of Africa and the lacking portrayals of prolific black astrophysicists, neurosurgeons and scholars.
Ignoring black history not only steals a past, but it takes away a grounded present and a promising future. Black children need to learn about black music, politics and philosophy in order to build a foundation to reach their tomorrows.
Black History Month is a time for all Americans to reflect on the history that has been stolen from the African American diaspora—it’s not a time to challenge the value of this identity, as I have seen so many white teens and adults do.
Black history is American history, and it deserves twelve months, not one.
Teaching the stories of America is worth tearing out a few pages honoring the contributions to civil society from celebrated colonizers to pseudo-egalitarians alike, from Cristopher Columbus through to Abraham Lincoln, to bragging about Teddy Roosevelt’s glorified imperialism, or the “equality” preached by slaveowners. Though delusions of grandeur seem inherent to the American identity, so does societal progress championed by empowered minorities.
*Although all of the above are ignorant and racist perceptions that have been used to break down black self-esteem and perpetuate white dominance since slavery, I must digress on this point. This is in reference to people who faced a stigma no other immigrant has been so consistently subjected to in an aggressive capitalist economy that never budged to provide labor after the Emancipation Proclamation. Which leads to the fact that class relates to one’s access to education, meaning minority communities with lower incomes have less access to education.
And many, many people have managed to transcend that nonetheless. Okay, America.