Ernest Owens | Debunking 40 acres and a month
The Ernest Opinion | Black History Month is a contradiction to a desegregated society
February 9, 2012, 10:25 pm·
The Ernest Opinion
I have a confession to make: I do not celebrate Black History Month. Last Wednesday, I had to be reminded that it was the kickoff to a month’s worth of cultural festivities. This was not because I had forgotten my race.
The reasons why I forgot about Black History Month are perfectly rational: Who thought it was reasonable to dedicate the shortest month of the year to celebrating black history? And since when was black history divorced from humanity’s overall history?
It is counterproductive to the social advancement of any race to be singled out and appreciated for just one month as opposed to 365 days a year.
I do not intend to be disrespectful about why Black History Month was created. Black History Month, conceived in 1926 as “Negro History Week” by historian Carter G. Woodson, commemorates the accomplishments and legacy of blacks in America. It was most relevant during a time of de jure segregation, when the misrepresentation of black people plagued our history books and society.
Back then, the event advocated for the awareness of blacks as they fought for equality and social understanding. But in 2012, the fact that we continue to make special-themed events on campus and watch national televised commercials that pair random “black facts” with pseudo-African drum music upsets me.
The title “Black History Month” purports a shallow celebration of black culture without considering its relationship to a larger historical narrative. As a result, Black History Month is mainly recognized by blacks who can connect with its narrow purpose.
Now imagine if there were a White History Month. Would any underrepresented minority group care enough to really celebrate?
This event also undermines the fact that “black history” is an integral part of history overall. The achievements of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. should not be confined to the public memory of blacks alone, but should be shared by everyone. To say they contributed to black history as opposed to American history as a whole diminishes their work.
These leaders aimed to desegregate our society. Yet we continue to isolate their legacy from a universal history.
Race is not some hired occupation or festive event that can be turned into a month of awareness. If the goal of Black History Month is to spread consciousness of my race, it should not begin on Feb. 1 and end on Feb. 28 each year (except for leap years, of course, when we get one extra day to celebrate). Instead, it should be continuously fought for in our society through education and social activism.
History must be revamped to reflect more perspectives and insights from various races, orientations and creeds. Everyone should play a part in combating the historical fallacies that continue to postulate our recent memory.
So as I continue to click “decline” on invitations to Black History Month events on Facebook, I continue to celebrate another. I call it living history. It encompasses the everyday events and challenges faced by blacks, Latinos, Asians, Caucasians and many more that resonate with me in a much more meaningful way than the superficial rituals surrounding Black History Month.
As a black man, I find it disrespectful that the very struggles of Thurgood Marshall, Bayard Rustin, W.E.B. Du Bois, Harriet Tubman and others are only commemorated for a short period of time and then stored away until the following year.
Other than their inventions, what makes Thomas Edison any different from George Washington Carver? The former is talked about in elementary school classrooms every day, whereas the latter is only mentioned during Black History Month.
History is supposed to educate us, not divide us. Inform us, not bias us or separate our thoughts. If we are to ever be judged by the content of our character and not by the color of our skin, we must begin by treating our national holidays the same way.
Ernest Owens, an Undergraduate Assembly representative, is a College sophomore from Chicago. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. The Ernest Opinion appears every Friday.