Like most black kids, in my household, Black History Month extends beyond February 28th. It is apart of who I am. When I was little, the elders in my family would share with me stories about their lives during segregation. I got to hear firsthand the challenges and stereotypes that they and their parents had to break through in order for me to have the rights I have today. Although I knew black history held some level of importance in my life and heritage, I didn’t truly start to see the value of learning about it and understanding it until I got a little older and realized how many people know little to nothing about it aside from what they had been taught in school.
In 1926, historian Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History proclaimed the first week of February to be “Negro History Week” to coincide with the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. In the late 1960s, Negro History Week began being celebrated as Black History Month on many college campuses. In 1976, President Gerald Ford officially recognized it to be celebrated in educational institutions nationwide.
This month is a time to honor the the black innovators, trailblazers, freedom fighters, artists, writers, poets, musicians, dancers, and the civil rights activists that have created the space for us as the next generation of leaders to break through barriers, challenge society, express ourselves freely and to help create a more open and accepting world. Although it is an opportunity to celebrate the successes and achievements of black people, it is also a time to acknowledge and recognize the suffering, disenfranchisement, dehumanization, and injustices that black people had to endure to make them happen. As the future creators of society. It is necessary that we educate ourselves on this rich and impactful subject in order to abolish the ignorance, racism, confusion, and stigmas that often still surround black people today.
Black history in America extends beyond the handful of events the school curriculum often teaches about slavery, the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement. The black experience is a huge part of what has shaped American history and culture. It is the thousands of black men who were forced into a new caste system by being put in prison, following the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Black history is the millions of Africans that did not even survive the passage over to America on the slave ships. It is the rich sounds of jazz music, James Brown, and the Harlem Renaissance, which redefined music as well as the way African Americans were viewed in society. It is people such as Henrietta Lacks, whose unique immortal cells became the HeLa cell line, which opened many important doors in medical research. Whether it is the way we wear our hair, our music, the style of our clothing or the way we look; Black culture has influenced American culture in every way and is more now more popular than ever.
Carter G. Woodson said, “Those who have no record of what their forebears have accomplished lose the inspiration which comes from the teaching of biography and history.” For black students, learning about our history is necessary because it is learning about our identity and increasing our sense of self. A lot of times the media often paints a negative image of black people or enforces a certain stereotype. The more we learn about our black history, the more we can have pride in our blackness and appreciate all of the different ways it is expressed. The way to undermine the stereotypes placed on our race is by showing the world who we really are. How can we show the world all of the things that makes us great if we don’t know them ourselves?
Despite the substantial growth made in the most recent decades, racism is still a very harsh reality in America. Just because it’s 2018 does not mean that it has just automatically ceased to exist– especially with our current political climate. Between the white supremacists rally in Charlottesville, college kids posting up swastikas around their schools, to the popular clothing brand H&M releasing a photo of a black boy wearing a sweater with the words “coolest monkey in the jungle“ written on it, without considering the history of black people being referred to as “monkeys” as a tool of dehumanization, openly racist acts are still very much alive.
Race is something that is ingrained in our brains despite those who claim not to see it. The truth is that we do see race. People act racially prejudice everyday, whether or not they realize it. For example, a waiter giving a black couple bad service at a restaurant because they assume the couple will not tip well based on their race; moving to the other side of the street when you see a black man walking down the sidewalk; discriminating against black people when hiring for a job position; or reporting a black teen walking about in their own neighborhood because they look “suspicious.” A lot of times it is just ignorance that causes these assumptions of black people to be made. It is the visuals of black thugs and prisoners or those living in poverty engraved in our brains that cause this reaction. But the more we study black history in America and realize the systematic oppression that is present, the more we can consciously avoid making these preconceptions.
How is it that we can glorify The White House, but not the history of the slaves who built it? As the future leaders of our nation, it is our job to change the way we teach black history. There should no longer be an excuse for this type of ignorance. One of the ways we can do this is by making sure we learn as much about it as possible. Black history is a big piece of the multicultural puzzle that is America. It is not only important but also vital to educate ourselves on our past and our history so that we can spread equality and help to create a more progressive and harmonious future.