Carter G. Woodson, historian, circa 1895. [Photo via Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain]

Black History Month: Debate Rages On Relevancy

Black history month begins on February 1, and extends through February 29 this year. There is continuous debate that heightened recently when Stacey Dash made the comment that there is no need for such a month, and African American people can’t have it both ways. She said that as a group they either want integration or segregation.

Her comments were eloquently refuted by many, and as she continues to speak out, it highlights a lack of knowledge of U.S. history, as noted by the Root. Dash also offered her opinion on BET, the NAACP awards, and other shows that celebrate the accomplishments of people of color. Interestingly, she didn’t note other awards shows and organizations that highlight other ethnicities, such as the Latino Grammy Awards, the Jewish Defense League, the Hispanic National Bar Association, and the National Italian American Foundation.

Also, Black History Month isn’t the only official month that celebrates the history and culture of a specific ethnic group. Following is a list of others.

  • Irish-American Heritage Month (March)
  • Arab-American Heritage Month (April)
  • Asian-American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month (May)
  • Jewish-American Heritage Month (May)
  • Caribbean-American Heritage Month (June)
  • National Hispanic American Heritage Month (September 15 – October 15)
  • Polish-American Heritage Month (October)

The above list is not exhaustive, and there are designated months for other groups, but the above pertains to various ethnicities. Since it’s been established that African Americans aren’t the only group that has a month dedicated to highlighting its culture and contributions, and it’s not likely that anyone would propose abolishing any of these groups, then why offer up Black History Month or the NAACP?

Answers can be found in the history of this country and the odd relationship it has with the descendants of African slaves. Taking it a step further, it should be noted that many “ethnic” groups have blended into American mainstream society and proudly proclaim they are white, when a little less than a century ago, their ancestors were regarded as foreign, strange, and other.

African Americans could not (and why would they want to?) blend in the same manner due to their melanin-rich skin color. Differing in physical appearance from the majority group is not problematic, but racism and discrimination continued post slavery, and the false belief that dark skin is inferior was perpetuated. Immigrants can assimilate in lifestyle, speak English, and accept other facets of American culture, but the shape of eyes, color of skin, and texture of hair cannot be altered through natural means. Assimilation can occur to a certain degree, but with some groups of people, there will always be a difference in skin color, hair texture, eye shape, etc, which should be celebrated–not denigrated.

Additionally, the descendants of slaves did not immigrate to this country but were kidnapped, assaulted, sold, and forced into servitude. Although language and culture are intertwined, Africans weren’t allowed to speak their native languages. Nevertheless, they created a rich culture on American soil, and their contributions helped shape this country.

The father of what is now Black History Month, historian Carter G. Woodson (pictures at the top of this post), created “Negro History Week” in 1926. The week included the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln on February 12 and Frederick Douglass’ birthdate on February 14, and these dates were significant to black people as they embraced both men, per the Daily Kos. The former was known among many as “The Great Emancipator,” and the latter as a tireless abolitionist and later statesman. The goal and purpose was to teach the history of African Americans in public schools, thereby encouraging people of African descent and informing others on the accomplishments of blacks. Many statements in Woodson’s classic, The Mis-Education of the Negro, explain the necessity and urgency of instruction on the history and accomplishments of black people.

“The ‘educated Negroes’ have the attitude of contempt toward their own people because in their own as well as in their mixed schools Negroes are taught to admire the Hebrew, the Greek, the Latin and the Teuton and to despise the African. Of the hundreds of Negro high schools recently examined by an expert in the United States Bureau of Education only eighteen offer a course taking up the history of the Negro.”

Woodson’s goal was to educate blacks about themselves (pre and post America) and to inform others of the contributions, culture, and history of African Americans. The objective is an excellent one, and the day when the contribution of blacks will be considered an equal part of American history and taught with the same vigilance hasn’t come. Therefore, Black History month remains.

[Photo by Wikimedia Commons]

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