Alexander: Let’s Get Rid of Black History Month

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Curtis Lin

(Photo by Curtis Lin/ Daily Utah Chronicle)

By CJ Alexander, Opinion Writer

 

Personally, I don’t think we should have Black History Month at all. The Black community doesn’t deserve to have their entire history condensed to fit into the shortest month of the year. But it happens. Every year, it happens. And organizations, companies and schools butcher Black history and focus on the same few figures: Martin Luther King Jr, Rosa Parks, Frederick Douglass, maybe a little bit of Malcolm X. Of course, they were instrumental in the Civil Rights Movement (and in Douglass’ case, abolishing slavery), but this is just a glimpse of Black history and primarily focuses on the past 60 years of US history. We are not putting forth our best effort to commemorate and celebrate Black history. Not with these mild attempts and brief timelines. Attempting to cover the entirety of Black history in a single month to promote comfort among our white-washed history pages is demeaning to Black ancestry. Through a more inclusive and diverse curriculum, Black history can be celebrated every day and treated as a crucial and essential part of America’s historical discourse.

The Father of Black History, Carter G. Woodson, first came up with the idea of “Black History Month” back in 1926. But at the time, it was introduced as Negro History Week and was the second week of February. In 1976, it became celebrated for the entire month of February, thanks to President Gerald Ford. And ever since then, we have celebrated BHM annually.

Woodson’s brainchild wasn’t meant to last, as he hoped that “time would come when Negro History Week would be unnecessary” and that people would “willingly recognize the contributions of Black Americans as a legitimate and integral part of the history of this country.” If we start to adopt Woodson’s dream as our own and provide and adopt a more inclusive and thorough approach to Black history, we can get rid of the condensed and oversimplified version of Black history we now know. We can embrace the entirety of Black history as a part of our national history and in turn undo the failures of previous historians.

Despite the feeble attempts made by US schools to cover Black history, these institutions are severely lacking in in-depth teachings. And as a source of knowledge, the education system has no excuse for doing the bare minimum. US history textbooks and curriculum are dominated by white-European history, and the absence of Black history aside from slavery and the Civil Rights Movement is evident. Talk of racism and race as a whole in classrooms is avoided — as many feel uncomfortable talking about issues of race — and focusing on institutional racism in our schools is even harder to face with white privilege rearing its ugly head. Some schools even fail to cover the Civil Rights Movement and police brutality as a whole, which is telling of how much schools are willing to participate in BHM.

Our history courses often forget that in MLK’s “I Have A Dream” speech, he states that civil rights devotees will “never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.” Without in-depth teachings, educators are proving that the surface level of Black history is enough to keep them comfortable, as opposed to reassuring and making Black students feel a part of much of Black history. With this erasure, Black and brown students grow up knowing all about white history, but not their own, and feel more and more isolated. Not only is this an educational malpractice, but it worsens the racism found in the education system. But if schools start incorporating more thorough teachings about Black history in their curriculum, then the need for BHM will falter, and we can accept the entire history of the US instead of the white-washed version we have now.

The education system has let down millions of students who hope to understand their own history, which is revealing in a nation where Black people were once considered “3/5ths” of a person. And I’m not the only Black person who feels this way, as if society and the education system are doing the bare minimum to make a major chunk of American society feel included. University of Utah’s own Black Cultural Center Director, Meligha Garfield, had plenty to say on the matter of BHM. Meligha’s start to Black history was by his own parents after a kid in Meligha’s kindergarten class asked “‘if he was Black because he drank chocolate milk.’”

It wasn’t until his third grade that Meligha started learning about the surface level of Black history, as he said, “it was kind of bare-bones, of course, we talked about historical figures like Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks and things of that nature but not really in-depth, like where do we come from, like why it’s structured like that or why is it like that today.” Then Meligha truly didn’t get into the depths of Black history until college, where he had Africana studies. Not only did the public schools fail Meligha, but they failed millions of other students who had to wait until college to start understanding their history. With the accomplishments of Black people being overlooked, the American historical discourse is incomplete, and we need to do more to fix it. Black and brown students are growing up without a sense of their own history. That’s why schools need to ultimately adopt a more inclusive and diverse curriculum.

Getting rid of BHM is long overdue. At its best, BHM helps people learn, understand and admire the accomplishments of high-profile, influential Black people. It provides companies, schools, and organizations the chance to boast inclusivity, and commemorate Black figures through events and products. At its worst, it fails to cover the entirety of Black history, and instead focuses on few Black historical figures and the past 50 years of US history, blatantly erasing centuries of Black history and struggle. If educators and leaders adopt an inclusive approach to discussing Black history in further depth, we can begin helping the Black community feel represented as a  part of the US’s historical fabric, while their white counterparts can assimilate to Black culture and recognize its integral role in society. Black history should never be a task or check box for people to complete for one month of the year. Recognizing and learning Black history should be a constant effort.

 

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 @CamdenAlexande1