The Sunday Question: Should There Be a Black History Month?

February is Black History Month (women’s history month is soon to follow, and we know of discussions about Confederate history month). At a time when certain people criticize diversity and multiculturalism, one might ask whether we should have a month devoted to focusing on the history of African Americans. Critics can offer their reasons, and proponents can bring forth their justifications. Is such a month necessary? Is it a good idea? What does it say about how we study and understand history?

The floor is open.

13 thoughts on “The Sunday Question: Should There Be a Black History Month?

  1. chellers February 2, 2014 / 11:43 am

    If so, there should be an Japanese History Month, Latino History Month, German History Month, ad infinitum, ad nauseam. The focus on a single ethnicity, to the neglect of all others, is fairly appalling. Better to have simply an American History Month.

    • M.D. Blough February 2, 2014 / 12:11 pm

      “Better to have simply an American History Month.” The U.S. would need a different history for that to have worked. If history as taught in US schools had not for many decades virtually ignored African-Americans, there never would have been a need for a black history month to begin with. To equate African-Americans with ethnic groups ignores the difference in historical experience. The ethnic groups you mentioned all faced and some still face discrimination, sometimes massive, but they came here voluntarily for the most part. They certainly didn’t primarily come here after being kidnapped. I don’t know of another group whose primary experience was the slave experience. Even those who came as indentured servants or as criminals had the prospect of freedom and their descendants did not inherit that status. The US always faced the dilemma so sharply put by the British author Samuel Johnson at the outset of the American Revolution, “”How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of Negroes?” or as Abigail Adams wrote her husband John in 1774, “I wish most sincerely there was not a Slave in the province. It allways appeard a most iniquitious Scheme to me-fight ourselfs for what we are daily robbing and plundering from those who have as good a right to freedom as we have. You know my mind upon this Subject.”

      I hope the day will come when Black History Month can be eliminated because the African-American experience is treated fully and honestly in our schools. Until that happens (I think we’ve made major progress but we still have a long way to go), I think that your approach is, at best, disingenuous.

      • Roger E Watson February 2, 2014 / 12:50 pm

        “…or as Abigail Adams wrote her husband John in 1774, “I wish most sincerely there was not a Slave in the province. It allways appeard a most iniquitious Scheme to me-fight ourselfs for what we are daily robbing and plundering from those who have as good a right to freedom as we have. You know my mind upon this Subject.”

        I will admit a got a chill up my spine reading that. The lovely Mrs. Adams was “spot on” !!

      • John Foskett February 2, 2014 / 1:26 pm

        I understand the arguments on both sides here. My problem with having a “Black History Month” to the exclusion of others is that it seems to be another circumstance driven by political agendas. Better that we require the routine teaching of history in our schools in a way which includes the experience of all who have been in these United States – the various “caucasian” groups, African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, and one I’ll get to in a moment. For example, WWII should not be taught without at least some reference to the segregated Army, to the unlawful Japanese internment, and maybe even to the Zoot Suit Riot in LA. To me that’s far more meaningful and important than any one group getting its particular “History Month”. But if we’re going to have those there’s a group that up to today has suffered possibly worse overall treatment, even though they were here first and yet nobody seems to be pushing for them to get a month. Same as it ever was…..

        • Matt McKeon February 2, 2014 / 1:38 pm

          Having a Black History Month doesn’t mean that you are never allowed to discuss blacks in history at any other time.

          • John Foskett February 3, 2014 / 8:33 am

            Thanks for the insight. Nobody said it does and I’ll wager that you understand my point. We only have 12 months to play with here. And how we teach history is far more important. But I assume you’re in favor of Native American History Month?

  2. Rob Wick February 2, 2014 / 1:30 pm

    Given the initial reasoning Carter Woodson had for creating, Negro History Week, it seems the original rationale for Black History Month no longer exists. Who among us, other than the most die-hard racists, believes that blacks never positively contributed to American history? But as the role of blacks in America has progressed, one could make the argument that so to has the reason for the month. School teachers could use the month as on object lesson in how the past is remembered and how marginalized people struggled to have their story presented fairly. African Americans could use it to bring out the stories of more obscure figures that otherwise might be forgotten.

    Plus, who exactly would make the determination that the month is no longer needed, or more importantly, who would make the declaration that it’s over? What white person could do it, or what African-American could be considered to speak for an entire race? It seems to me that little really needs to happen. Rather it should be allowed to proceed organically on its own terms. People who want to celebrate it will, and those who don’t won’t. I personally don’t feel that I would forget the role of African-Americans in history without the month, but I equally don’t feel that having the month provides or allows any special recognition to the exclusion of anyone else. If other groups want a day, week or a month set aside to promote their own history, let them create it. Whether or not one chooses to participate remains that person’s choice. Even if they choose not to participate, simply hearing about it has had a desired effect and may lead someday to them actually learning more about it, or about the history the day, week or month tries to bring into sharper focus.

    Best
    Rob

  3. Daryle Lamont Jenkins February 2, 2014 / 1:39 pm

    So long as we have people trying to blame Black people for slavery and say Republicans gave us the Civil Rights Bill without any further explanation, Black History Month will continue to be around.

  4. Noma February 2, 2014 / 3:17 pm

    We will still need Black History month until the time comes when every American recognizes that without the momentous contributions of African American ancestors, this country could never be what it is today. Our culture could never be what it is today.

    It is not simply that there is a need to acknowledge the achievements of those with African ancestry (recent ancestry, that is, for we all have African ancestry) in an effort to pat African Americans on the back.

    The real need is to understand that these are our ancestors, too — in ways that are even more important that genetics. We need to understand that Frederick Douglass, Rosa Parks, Thurgood Marshall, and W.E.B DuBois are the ancestors of *all* of us, even if we can’t trace our genetics back to slavery. By their heroic work, they helped create the America that is the best in all of us.

    And, of course, this does not even touch the art, the music, the architecture, the literature, the dance, the inventions, the educational pioneering, the cuisine — and so many important facets of our culture which we take for granted, which help shape the most intimate or even commonplace aspects of our daily life.

    In this sense, we all have African American ancestors in the most profound way. Some are famous, many are not. But we need to recognize this component of our identity. We need to appreciate that much of which has been handed down to us was won through very hard battles. We can’t let it be lost through want of education. A person may think of his or her genetic ancestry as Caucasian, Hispanic, Asian — but to be truly American, everyone must recognize their African-American ancestry and understand what a great gift that is.

    At this point, I think it will be years until we reach such a day.

  5. Schroeder February 2, 2014 / 6:11 pm

    Given that our educational system does not seem to have the capabilities to expound on African American history while simultaneanously teaching about the Civil War – the month is needed. Along with the uphill battles that have been endured by Africans since being hauled to America for the purpose of slavery, I believe that the educational system needs to stop sugar-coating the atrocities committed to a race forceably brought here for slavery. There is also a tremendous difference in Black American culture and African American culture in this present day – this month serves to explore this point as well.

  6. Carter February 2, 2014 / 6:32 pm

    No, black history month is a ridiculous farce.

  7. Brad Griffin February 3, 2014 / 6:10 am

    Absolutely.

    Black History Month is one of our favorite times of the year. I just wrote an article that celebrates the accomplishments of Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier in Haiti.

  8. eshonk February 3, 2014 / 5:13 pm

    All groups that are part of the history of the United States should be recognized for their contributions to the country. To set-aside one month to honor each of the groups in question would be an impossibility, thus to be fair to all the groups, no single group should be the focus of attention, at any given time. As the history of the United States unfolded, each of the groups made its contributions to the fabric of America, and this should be included in the overall discussion of American History, at the appropriate time. To claim that slavery was a more important issue than the policy of genocide of Native Americans, or the exclusion of women from the political arena, is to place too much emphasis on one issue, at the expense of the others. This only serves to present American History in a lopsided venue, which is not an honest assessment of the subject matter.

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