February 2017 marks the 41st Black History Month since it was created by order of President Gerald Ford in 1976. Black History Month was expanded from Black History Week, which was established in 1926 by Dr. Carter G. Woodson. Black History Week was placed during the week that celebrated the births of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.
Since 1976, every sitting president has issued a message supporting and honoring Black History Month. The month was officially designated in 1986 with the passage of Public Law 99-244, which stated the following.
“Now, therefore, be it…That the month of February, 1986 is designated as ‘National Black (Afro-American) History Month’, and the President of the United States is authorized and requested to issue a proclamation calling upon the people of the United States to observe that month with appropriate ceremonies and activities to salute all that Black Americans have done to help build our country.”
Why The Controversy?
The creation of a month set aside to reflect on the accomplishments of black Americans raises the hackles of young African American millennials. The existence of a month, they argue, allows America to ignore black history and contributions for the rest of the year.
Stacey Dash, an actress most famous for her role in the 1995 comedy Clueless, has called for the scrapping of Black History Month, saying, “There shouldn’t be a Black History month. We’re Americans. Period. That’s it.”
Her comments raised significant backlash from around the country on social media. She defended her statement in a blog post.
“We have to make up our minds. Either we want to have segregation or integration, and if we don’t want segregation, then we have to get rid of channels like BET and the BET Awards and the Image Awards, where you’re only awarded if you’re black. If it were the other way around, we’d be up in arms. It’s a double standard. I don’t need a special month or special channel. What’s sad is that these insidious things only keep us segregated and invoke false narratives.”
Even Morgan Freeman has criticized Black History Month, famously saying in a 60 Minutes interview that it was “ridiculous” and asking, “You are going to relegate my history to a month?”
The controversy raised impassioned responses from nearly every corner of the United States. Waka Flocka issued an expletive-laced response in which he articulated points he felt that Stacey Dash hadn’t raised properly.
BET, for its part, responded to Dash’s statements by releasing a gallery of “Every Time Stacey Dash Proved She Was Clueless” and a Twitter post mocking her stance.
— BET (@BET) January 20, 2016
Donald Trump responded to her comments last year by saying he thought her piece was “an amazing interview, actually. I’ve never even thought of it from that standpoint.”
Shukree Tilghman, the producer and star of the 2012 documentary More Than a Month, has said publicly that he feels that needing a specific month for black history is not a position that shows empowerment.
President Trump did not release a message or presidential proclamation supporting Black History Month, unlike all of his predecessors. President Obama released Proclamations 8930, 9080, 9230, and 9392, among others. President Bush also issued proclamations in support of Black History Month.
People are wondering if this means that President Trump plans to do away with Black History Month in its entirety. A satire piece by Michael Harriot on the Root proclaims this the “last Black History Month,” while also calling out President Trump on his lack of acknowledgment of Jewish losses during the Holocaust on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Do you think that Black History Month is still needed? What do you think of President Trump’s lack of a presidential proclamation? Let us know in the comments below.
[Featured Image by argus/Shutterstock]