In the good-natured American way, Black History Month is questioned more and more each year. It seems as though a certain sect of people find this month to be useless and, well, racist. Yes, folks. People consider Black History month to be racist. It’s as if a whole month dedicated to the history of one race really grinds the gears of those who don’t pay attention to history any other time of the year. Yet, it’s soooo unfair! So, the question is posed…
Why is Black History Month relevant?
There are plenty of reasons for it’s existence, but I’m going to personalize this piece to tell you why we should celebrate this month.
I am from the great state of North Dakota. It’s a very peaceful state with wide open prairies and hardworking people. The picture above is my city. Minot, North Dakota. We are known for the latest huge oil boom (mostly west of Minot), a bustling economy, copious amounts of snow, freezing cold winters, and a general misconception of being Amish. Yes, we do have the internet, television, Wi-Fi, iPads, iPhones, Androids, and any other popular electronic device out there. No, the general population is not fashion forward. Pajamas are acceptable attire, and jeans are the delicacy of the workplace. This is North Dakota, not New York City. All in all, ND is a cool place to grow up.
Of all the nuances that make up the culture of North Dakota, diversity is not one of them.
The lack of ethnic/racial diversity in this state is incredibly astounding. As of 2014, 89.1 percent of the state is Caucasian. That’s almost 12 percent higher than the national average. On the flip side, the percentage of African Americans in ND is 2.1 percent. The next most present group is American Indian/Alaskan Native at 5.4 percent, and Hispanic/Latino at 3.2 percent. To say there is disparity among races is a vast understatement. As such, there is a very noticeable (and sizeable) cultural gap.
Noticeable to me anyway.
One of the many times I saw this gap was in my school curriculum. The only time I can remember doing a report regarding a black historical figure was in the 3rd grade. I’m sure you already know who the report was on. None other than Martin Luther King, Jr. The figurehead of the Civil Rights movement, and THE most known African-American on the planet. It’s fitting for 3rd grade. Right? Yeah, I’ll concede on that one.
I went on through my schooling and I heard about Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, and W.E.B. DuBois. My 9th grade history teacher who spoke of W.E.B. DuBois pronounced his name WEB. Right. Like the web of a duck’s feet. When I corrected him, he gave me a I really know what I’m talking about look and said, “Web.”
Apparently, the periods in between W.E.B. didn’t clue my teacher in to those being his initials.
As school progressed, black history month switched to a focus on reading month. By the time I was a junior in high school, black history was reduced to an afterthought. I distinctly remember going through February with a nagging feeling that we should be talking about black history. I vented to my mom, and she guided me towards the importance of reading. That’s a basic need, so fine. However, there wasn’t even an attempt to integrate black authors into said reading month. No Zora Neale Hurston. No Langston Hughes. No Richard Wright. None of that. In fact, I didn’t even know some of these names until I took a class in college. Some of them after I graduated.
The majority of my education was whitewashed.
As infuriating as that term may be to some, it’s the truth. Here I am the lone black kid in every almost every one of my classes, and my educational experience did very little to engage my ethnicity or culture. I’d hear about Ben Franklin, Isaac Newton, all of the presidents (I’ll concede a bit on this one), Lewis and Clark, Paul Revere, and a host of others. However, I wasn’t taught about Lewis Latimer (invented the filament for light bulbs), Thomas Jennings (invented dry cleaning), Marcus Garvey, the black soldiers in WWII, or other influential Civil Rights leaders.
What did I expect? I was the minority.
Out of the 485 students I graduated with, maybe 10 were black? And that’s high balling it. Thus, a focus on black history or culture would be extracurricular at very best. I thank my parents for teaching me about my history. I say my history because black history has not yet been integrated as American history. You don’t agree?
Quick! Name me five prominent figures of the Civil Rights Movement outside of Rosa, Malcolm X, and MLK, Jr. Oh yeah, do it without using Google or Bing.
Did you draw a blank?
Next question. Did you know about Bloody Sunday in Selma, AL before the movie was produced? I’m ashamed to say I didn’t.
Here we go. Name me a piece of black history that does not involve slavery or the Civil Rights Movement. We are actually watching history right now, so this one should be easy.
Last question. What was the landmark court case that declared “separate but equal” was constitutional?
Did you strike out plus one? If not, then awesome! If you did, then that’s the reason why Black History Month is relevant. I would say the history is forgotten (and much of it died with the people that died for it), but it actually needs to be taught to be able to fade away. The reason I know who I am and where I come from is because of my parents. They took the time to teach me what it means to be black in America. They taught me that black history is not just slavery and marches.
It’s perseverance and triumph.
So, if you are wondering why Black History Month is relevant, then there you go. However, the question of relevance will continue as long as black history is not integrated with American history. We have to understand that black history is celebrated for one month out of the entire year. The rest of the time black history fades to black until February once again forces us to learn what mainstream curriculum waters down. Folks, it’s time to integrate our history.
Black history is American history.