Problems with Black History Month
Published: Friday, February 15, 2013
Updated: Sunday, February 17, 2013 17:02
Every February, the United States and Canada observe “Black History Month” or “African-American History Month.” The latter term is used for the sake of political correctness, despite the fact that most black Americans are not literally African-Americans in the same sense that this writer is not literally Irish-American (this is where one should make a distinction between African-American and of African descent and between Irish-American and of Irish descent, but I digress). Throughout this month, we are told of the struggles blacks have faced over the centuries and of the courage and fortitude of individuals such as Harriet Tubman; Jackie Robinson; Martin Luther King, Jr.; and Clarence Thomas. While the hearts of those who celebrate Black History Month may be in the right place, designating a month to remind ourselves of such stories should not be the way we remember such history.
The origins of Black History Month go back to 1926 when historian, Carter G. Woodson, the son of a slave, and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History announced that the second week of February to be “Negro History Week.” They chose this week to commemorate the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. When “Negro History Week” was created, Jim Crow, lynchings, a segregated military, and bans on interracial marriage were norms. History books also neglected the sufferings, challenges, and triumphs of blacks throughout history.
Since the 1920s, thankfully, things have changed for the better, and our education policy should change to reflect this. Black History Month was created to compensate for the lack of attention to black history. We have moved in the right direction since then. We no longer treat African-Americans as if they are in second-class citizens under the law. Now, if we want to teach African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, and Americans of all other races that they are guaranteed political equality in the United States, we should not teach certain histories in unequal measures. In a 2006 interview, black actor Morgan Freeman told Mike Wallace of 60 Minutes that the idea of a Black History Month is “ridiculous” because it relegates the history of blacks to a single month. He noted that black history is American history. When Wallace asked him how society would address the problem of racism against African-Americans, Freeman responded, “Stop talking about it.” Similarly, Charles C.W. Cooke of National Review recently wrote, “Rather than being treated as a separate and limited discipline, divorced by the pigmentation of its subjects from ‘mainstream’ American history, the teaching of black history should hew to the principle of integration. Black Americans are not visitors putting on a cultural show, nor are they legally separated. They are an integral, inextricable part of the country’s past, present, and future. The curriculum should treat them as such.”
Freeman and Cooke are precisely right. Black history should be taught in schools, but it should not be taught as if it is different from the rest of history. The point of studying the heroism of Harriet Tubman and Jackie Robinson is to show that the color of their skin makes them no less and no more American than heroes such as Abraham Lincoln and Babe Ruth. If we wish to make this point clear, then we would do well to not separate the history of blacks from whites and other races.