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.