Happy Black History Month! Now Here’s Why It’s Important

Black History Month has been a staple in America as long as I can remember, and as a black boy growing up in Tyrone, I always loved it. Teachers always gave me a new perspective on influential black people in history and today, and learning about my history outside of slavery felt empowering to say the least. What always took my breath away were the assemblies though. It always seemed to me like the whole school was lending their voices to a rising chorus of celebration of black culture and what it means to America. However, as I’ve gotten older there’s been another chorus, one that desires nothing more than to do away with one of my favorite times of year. Every year I hear more voices saying things like: “Well what about white history month?” and “All things like black history month and BET are doing is segregating us from each other! I don’t see color! Race is a social construct!” or my personal favorite, “Black History Month assemblies take away from class time!” While the people who say these things are entitled to their opinion, I disagree so completely it’s impossible for me not to address their arguments. Other arguments, like: “Well what about the other minority groups? Where are our months?” truly deserve an answer. Although I’m certainly not the final authority on this issue, I think that talking about common arguments that people have against Black History Month will help everyone understand how important it is, especially to the black youth of the nation.

Argument Number One: “Well what about white history month?” Listen (white) people, I know it’s hard to hear and hard to understand, but every other day of every year is white history month for minorities, especially in school. History classes are always taught from the same perspective: the white man’s. The only two things related to black people that are talked about universally in history class are slavery and the civil rights movement (and even the coverage on that can be lacking). Without Black History Month, black children would grow up scarcely hearing about any prominent black figures in history to look up to. As someone who’s been through this system, I can tell you how important knowing of successful black people to look up to was to me. Until this curriculum changes to better reflect the contributions of all races to America, Black History Month is going to be necessary to fill in the gaps in the heads of minority children about their own history.

Argument Number Two: “Focusing on race like this only divides us! I don’t see color and neither should you!” Focusing on our differences in culture and celebrating them is different than using them as tools to separate us from one another. The reason Black History Month exists is because it is the only way for some black students to learn about their heritage. BET exists because it was once (and in some ways still is) the only place for black entertainers to be recognized for their excellence. These things develop not because we wish to isolate ourselves, but because we want equality, and if we can’t get it by working in the established system, we have to make our own. If there was more equality in school systems and in entertainment awards, Black History Month and BET would have never existed. As far as “not seeing color” goes, it’s fortunate for you that you have that luxury, but for many of us, we don’t have the choice to not see color. When I’m followed in stores and called “suspicious” or “menacing” or my dad’s pulled over and asked whose car he’s driving (I’ll give you a hint, it’s his), I’m reminded that other people see my skin color as a reason to discriminate against me. Every time someone tells me they’re surprised that I’m so “proper” or tells me I’m trying to be white just because I speak properly, I’m reminded that someone else’s skin color is seen as better. This social construct of race is something that was created to keep people with colored skin down, and you using your privilege as a blinder not to see it only serves to keep you ignorant of the struggles we suffer every day.

Argument Number Three: “What about other minority races? If we don’t have months black people shouldn’t either.” While I agree with you that more equality and representation of minority races is needed, removing the attention black people have received isn’t the way to do it. Instead of removing black history month, how about adding Latin History Month or Asian History Month? Bringing focus to all minority races can do nothing but have a positive impact on the youth of tomorrow. Minority groups will have more knowledge about their heritage and white people will understand minorities more. I don’t know about you, but that sounds great to me.

Argument Number Four: “Black History Month takes away from class time!” This argument has been spreading here at Sandy Creek, and every time I hear it I cringe. If we don’t have class time for an assembly about Black History, why do we have time for “pep rallies” where we spend the oh-so-precious class time watching cheerleaders dance and get excited about sports. Something isn’t adding up. Let me reiterate this: If we have time to watch cheerleaders dance in preparation for a sporting event, then we have time to learn about the heritage of an entire race. What’s more, we have time to learn about Latin and Asian history as well. If you feel like we don’t just remove a pep rally or two, no sweat. The word’s not out on whether or not Sandy Creek is having an assembly, but if not you can look forward to another essay from me.