The Great Black History Month Debate

George Washington Carver

Image via Wikipedia

When February comes around, there are a few things you can always count on. There will be people complaining about how much weight they have gained over the winter. You will be subjected to eating “conversation hearts,” the candy that looks like chalk and tastes even worse. There will be great deal on mattress and cars to honor Lincoln on Presidents’ Day.

More importantly, though, is a celebration that infiltrates our entire culture.

February is Black History month.

Black History Month found its roots in Negro History Week, a week founded by historian Carter G. Woodson in 1926. Woodson, one of the smartest and most interesting people to exist, wanted to educate all of America about the history of African-Americans. To put it simply, Woodson wanted a period of time where people did not entirely ignore W.E.B. Dubois, Frederick Douglass, and George Washington Carver.

The end of winter brings countless classroom showings of “Roots” acrossAmerica. Lessons about Harriet Tubman and Martin Luther King, Jr. are sure to abound. Discovery Channel will, no doubt, switch from their normal programming (“Bayonets: The American Revolution’s Stabbiest Weapon”) to programs demonstrating great societal advancements created by African-Americans.

Along with these efforts towards education, though, comes an annual debate.

On the one hand, you have people saying it’s great to encourage people to learn about notable figures in black history. Taking an entire month to focus on the accomplishments made by a minority group that, throughout history, has had a difficult time earning the same opportunities as others is a great way to expand people’s knowledge and lead to a greater cultural understanding. This side is most often expressed by TV channels creating small TV spots that show they appreciate history and are super-diverse.

Others are offended by the concept of a Black History Month. Why should the history of an entire group be relegated to one single month? It doesn’t make sense. There is no White History Month, they argue. This side is outspoken and has supporters in many notable people such as Morgan Freeman.

When race is involved, things tend to become very sensitive. If you don’t believe me, try to get a white friend to rap along with an NWA song. There are certain to be parts of these songs that your friend’s rhyming fades out completely.

The sensitivity of these issues is so great that I couldn’t even write this without receiving a warning from my wife. I think she was afraid that I would upset large groups of people, essentially sentencing us to a life of fear that an entire race of people wanted to kill me. Hopefully that won’t happen, but just in case, I have moved to Alaska, so look for me there.

Because of this sensitivity, I understand both sides. Black History should not be relegated to just 28 days. There are far more than 28 notable African-Americans to go over. In fact, 28 days is barely enough time to learn anything. It took me years to learn how to tie my shoe. How am I supposed to learn everything that happened between the American independence through today in only a month?

With that said, drawing attention to the works of these great figures is definitely needed. You don’t want people to grow up thinking that Lebron James and Kanye West are the most successful African-Americans of all-time. Plus, with the American school system at its current state, a month encouraging any type of learning is an improvement over most months.

With both sides making very valid points, the question becomes whether, or not, Black History Month serves a purpose.

When I was in school, I wrote countless reports. I read books that I do not remember. I memorized math formulas just long enough to pass a test before immediately tossing them into my brain’s recycle bin

There are very few things I actually remember in detail. These things very in importance from our lessons about the Civil War to learning how to properly apply deodorant.

One of these things I remember, though, is a report for Black History Month.

I was in elementary school when we received our assignments for our Black History Month reports. Like everyone else in the class, I desperately wanted Martin Luther King, Jr. The information about King was everywhere. I would be able to finish this report in just under 30 minutes and be done with an entire month of learning. With a last name that starts with B-A, I was guaranteed to be one of the first to choose my topic. The fates were with me.

Then, something crazy happened. The teacher went REVERSE alphabetically. I watched as King and Malcolm X and Frederick Douglass all disappeared off the board. When it came my turn, I had one choice left:

Botanist George Washington Carver.

I struggled to find information about Carver. All anything would say was that Carver was involved with peanuts. This was not enough to write an entire two-page report on, so I needed more.

The more I researched, though, the more I learned about Carver. I learned that he started out as an art student before becoming a botanist. I learned that, despite continued segregation in America, Carver spoke in front of Congress in the early 1900’s, being mocked by a bunch of butt-faced senators. The more I learned, the more I wanted to know.

I’m sure in school, I would have learned about George Washington Carver at some point. I probably would have zoned out during the lesson and only learned the answer to the one test question that I would have had to answer. (What snack did George Washington Carver work with? The peanut.) Black History Month, though, allowed me a chance to learn all about an amazing man who shaped an entire American industry, yet was still forced to endure a great deal of torment just because of his heritage.

Black History is American History. It should be taught throughout the year and, in my experience, it was. No, it wasn’t the main focus of most lessons, but it wasn’t ignored either.

With that said, a month celebrating this history is nothing to reject. It can spread knowledge to people who wouldn’t normally pay attention to it. Drawing any attention to these historical figures is good and Black History Month does just that.

Sure, it may be just a month, but at least for that month we can honor the way our culture has been shaped by African-Americans.

Without it, I would probably still think of George Washington Carver as that peanut guy.

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18 thoughts on “The Great Black History Month Debate

  1. Well said. It is sad how history taught in the schools excludes or only scratches the surface of the accomplishments of so many amazing men and women. I am sure that it has greatly improved since I was in school.

    In my opinion, setting aside a month for Black History is important given the racial discrimination that still exists in this country.

    Personally, I think that you should start petitioning Congress for an Nathan Badley day. I bet everyone would be in agreement! Just think you could be responsible for reunification of our Country just in time for the next election and why stop there… Hahaha!

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  2. For a little while now I have been reading your tongue-in-cheek, cleverly-written articles that mainly show a deft human touch.

    This article is different and I am glad I got to read it and didn’t skip it or let it pass me by.

    My two cents’ worth would be to say that things do not have to be all or nothing. Just because the whole year is not devoted to the story of the struggle of Black people doesn’t mean nothing should be devoted to them.

    If they are singled out for special treatment – well they were singled out once before – they are unique in US history as being the only people who were singled out for slavery, also. And that wasn’t so long ago.

    Being British and living in England (married to an American), I can take a bit more of a distanced view of the US, and I think it is amazing and wonderful how far and how much the US has transformed itself in the past 150 years, even in the past 50 years.

    _______

    I am not familiar with one phrase. What does ‘butt-faced’ mean? Does it perhaps indicate that the people in Congress were freezing Mr Carver out, showing him a faceless blank face?

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  3. Very good points indeed. I tend to agree with the likes of Morgan Freeman, and special days/weeks/months to honour someone or something don’t sit well with me. Take Mother’s Day, for instance, which has degenerated into a commercial event that’s got nothing to do with loving and respecting your parents. I usually ignore such occasions. Just like I have been known to celebrate my birthday 3 months early because the date was more convenient (we could have a garden party instead of freezing our behinds off in November).
    I do, however, accept the idea that certain causes are all too easily forgotten and benefit greatly from such awareness raising actions to brush off the cobwebs of oblivion.
    By the way, I get the ‘be careful’ talk from my husband as well when I have written a particularly snarky rant on a particularly touchy topic. The voice of reason will not be intimidated by such petty gutlessness though! Well done, Nathan.

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  4. I think we need to recognize the worth and contributions of all people all the time. That being said, there’s nothing wrong with focusing our attention for a little while on one group , then another, then another. As long as we continue to respect and honor all peoples with whom we share this planet on a daily basis.

    I know, I’m being unrealistic. But someone has to be. ;)

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  5. I think that there are so many people throughout history who have drastically changed the world. I think instead of having a “black” history month, each month should be dedicated to great inventors, scientists, artists, etc. It wouldn’t hurt for Americans to start learning about the people who have shaped this country, regardless of their ethnicity.

    In fact, I think we should quit having African Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans, etc. Why can’t we all just be Americans? Each group of people has contributed to our society in good and bad ways. I understand being prould of your heritage, but the more we seperate each group based on ethnicity, sex, age, or anything else, the less strength we have as a nation. A strong rope is made of different strands, but it is only strong when the strands are woven together.

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