Did you know that most people are confused or simply do not know the real purpose of the annual Black History Month celebration? Black History Month, which ended last week (Feb. 28), can be a controversial topic ranking on the scale of race, politics and religion.
No one is comfortable talking about it publicly. Generally, people do not question the validity of Black History. The central questions are Why an annual celebration? and Why do we make such a big deal about our history every year?
Recently, I conducted a series of interviews of people within my circle of friends and with random people on the streets of Fort Mill and Charlotte. I asked three questions: (1) Has Black History Month served its purpose? (2) Should this annual celebration go away? And if so, (3) Why?
I found a wide range of notions that seemed to fill the spectrum of public opinion. A few black people I interviewed felt that the celebration causes violence in our schools. Many white people Ive talked with believe the sole purpose of the annual celebration is to bash them for 28 and sometimes 29 days out of the year. The overwhelming majority of blacks believe the annual event should continue indefinitely. They cited experiences of their children in local schools, saying, Children in our schools tend to see Black History as separate stories apart from the main narratives of the American story.
Last year, my granddaughter told me of a conversation between several children on the bus. One of her white middle school classmates said on the bus, after school, My mom told me this morning that Black History Month is F....ing stupid. We dont have a White History Month. What makes them so special?
I was fascinated and yet experienced a certain level of disappointment. I wanted to understand the origins of such an insensitive statement.
The great meaning of Black History Month, and its positive influences on African Americans, cannot be overemphasized. Dr. Carter G. Woodson, distinguished author, editor, publisher and founder of Black History Week, developed an important philosophy of African American history.
He believed that blacks should know their past in order to participate intelligently in the affairs in our country. He strongly believed that black history, which others have tried so diligently to erase, is a firm foundation for young black Americans to build on in order to become productive citizens of our society.
Those who have no record of what their forebears have accomplished lose the inspiration which comes from the teaching of biography and history.
In 1931, Dr. Woodson identified problems with the classical educational system used to teach blacks in America. The Classical Education Model was a large component of the conditioning process for whites in America. The problem, as Dr. Woodson discovered, was that the classical education model deliberately erased all positive references of black people, our culture and our history. In essence, it provided an education that taught Negroes they were inferior to all others.
In order to fully understand this type of logic, you must first understand the caste system of the early 20th century. The caste system pitted races against each other with blacks at the bottom of the ladder. Whites in this country had a keen interest in keeping any knowledge of history away from the negroes for fear that it would upset the order of society.
But is there a growing movement today to marginalize African American history again? The tendency to marginalize African American history and its annual celebration may warrant a deeper more over-arching set of questions. What happens in American society when children in our schools grow-up to become parents, educators, CEOs or pastors? Will they marginalize African American history and its annual celebration? One cannot predict an outcome if he never knew what happened previously. If black people never knew that we were once robbed of any knowledge of our history, can we prevent this dilemma from reoccurring in future generations?
The ideas that inspired Dr. Woodson to establish Black History Month is still alive. He believed that knowledge of our history is vitally important to every generation. To lose sight of the purpose of Black History Month could spell the beginning of the end our history erased once again.