Black History Month

Discussion in 'History' started by Shale, Feb 9, 2009.

  1. Shale

    Shale ~

    This article discusses whether Black History Month should end. My comments are at the end.

    Time to end Black History Month?

    Associated Press
    February 7, 2009

    Should Black History Month itself fade into history? Many have long argued that African-American history should be incorporated into year-round education. Now, claims that Black History Month is outdated are gaining a new potency, as schools diversify their curricula and President Barack Obama's election opens a new chapter in the nation's racial journey.

    "If Obama's election means anything, it means that African-American history IS American history and should be remembered and recognized every day of the year," says Stephen Donovan, a 41-year-old lawyer.

    Ending "paternalistic" observances like Black History Month, Donovan believes, would lead to "not only a reduction in racism, but whites more ready and willing and able to celebrate our difference, enjoy our traditions, without feeling the stain of guilt that stifles frank dialogue and acceptance across cultures."

    Yemesi Oyeniyi, a 40-year-old stay-at-home mother, says that Black History Month feels like it's only for blacks, "and therefore fails to educate the masses of non-blacks."

    "I mean, now there is a Hispanic History Month and quite honestly I haven't paid more attention to the history of Spanish-speaking Americans any more now than I have in the past," she says. "I think it all should be taught collectively — every month."

    The black historian Carter G. Woodson founded Negro History Week in 1926, seeking to build self-worth in an oppressed people, preserve a marginalized subject, and prove to a nation steeped in racism that children of Africa played a crucial role in modern civilization.

    Woodson chose February because it contained the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass (which belies long-standing jokes about Black History Month being relegated to the shortest month of the year). Woodson's organization, now called the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), expanded the observance to a full month in 1976.

    It has now become a fixture in American education and culture — complete with the requisite commercialism — even as the shift in labels from Negro to black to African-American indicates the evolution of attitudes meant to be shaped by the event.

    Obama released an official proclamation on Feb. 2 lauding "National African American History Month" and calling upon "public officials, educators, librarians, and all the people of the United States to observe this month with appropriate ceremonies, activities, and programs that raise awareness and appreciation of African American history."

    Daryl Scott, chairman of the history department at Howard University and vice president of programming for ASALH, says Black History Month is still needed to solidify and build upon America's racial gains.

    "To know about the people who make up society is to make a better society," he says. "A multiracial, multiethnic society has to work at its relationships, just like you have to work at your marriage."

    "I don't see it going away," said Spencer Crew, a history professor at George Mason University, adding that a diverse year-round history curriculum can still be augmented in depth during Black History Month.

    "There's a Women's History Month," Crew said. "No one would argue that we don't need to be reminded of women who have done things that are important."

    Racial attitudes can also vary greatly from person to person and place to place.
    Lee Eric Smith, the first black editor of the University of Mississippi student newspaper, isn't ready to get rid of Black History Month, "because, to start quoting cliches, those who don't know their history are doomed to repeat it."

    "If Mississippi ranks last in more categories than I want to talk about, at the same time, so many issues we're facing are rooted in not understanding how these problems came to be in the first place," says Smith, a native Mississippian.
    Mississippi memories point to a different America where, in response to institutionalized racism, concepts like Black Power and the Afrocentric holiday of Kwanzaa were created. As that racist reality faded, so did many of those creations.

    Obama's triumph, to some, means that we can all put other assumptions — like the need for Black History Month — behind us.

    "I propose that, for the first time in American history, this country has reached a point where we are can stop celebrating separately, stop learning separately, stop being American separately," Detroit Free Press columnist Rochelle Riley wrote in a Feb. 1 column calling for an end to Black History Month.

    At Daniel Warren Elementary in Mamaroneck, N.Y., kindergarten teacher Jane Schumer has dedicated many hours this year to the story of Wangari Maathai, a Kenyan activist who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for leading a movement that planted millions of trees in Africa.

    Schumer connected Maathai's story to Obama, who planted a tree in her program and whose father was from Kenya. She connected Maathai to Martin Luther King Jr., who like Maathai was jailed for fighting injustice.

    Schumer doesn't have any special black history plans for February.

    "It can't be contrived," says Schumer. "It's a way of thinking, a way of life ... to me, the whole year has built up to this month ... the emphasis we have is what people would want to accomplish with Black History Month."

    Steve O'Rourke, who has a kindergartner at Warren Elementary, says his son wants to ask Maathai, "You and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. both went to jail for doing the right thing. What did it feel like to be in jail?"

    "Whenever we denote something as belonging in a certain month, it becomes tempting to say it belongs in that month alone ... ," says O'Rourke. "Ideally I would like us to have a common rather than compartmentalized history."

    New York is among several states that have passed laws mandating or encouraging teachers to broaden their history classes. New Jersey was the first to do so, in 2002, after Assemblyman Bill Payne conceived and wrote the Amistad Commission bill, named after the Africans who took over their slave ship, ended up in Connecticut and won freedom in court.

    Several years later, many New Jersey teachers were unaware that the law existed, and many who wanted to comply did not have the resources or knowledge to diversify their lessons, Payne says.

    Next fall, New Jersey's Amistad Commission will deploy a new set of Internet-based lesson plans for teachers to use statewide.

    "I'm concerned about black and white kids' education," says Payne, who is no longer in the legislature and travels the country lecturing about his Amistad Commission. "This is not a black history course. I'm taking about U.S. history. I'm an American."

    Yet even Payne thinks that Black History Month should remain, because "we should not give up our heritage."

    And it does seem unlikely that it will disappear anytime soon.

    "Yes, we do need it for the time being, if only because we're in uncharted territory," says Smith, the Mississippi native.

    "We've just experienced a seismic shift in the identity of America," he says, referring to Obama's election. "We're in the process of transforming into something, we don't know exactly what that is yet. Until we have a better grasp on that, it's hard to understand how we should teach history."

    What I think:

    I agree with those who want Black History Month to fade into history. It is now more divisive to have separate histories than to include all Americans, regardless of gender, race or particular ethnic into the larger picture of American history.

    Perhaps it still holds some benefit to children, but one must separate the myths (lies) of history from the facts. As a child I was told about George Washington chopping down the cherry tree when he was a child and honestly 'fessing up to the deed, a moral lesson myth that I hope is not now repeated as actual history without revealing its source.

    This very article has the product of such mythology when black historian Carter G. Woodson founded Negro History Week in 1926, choosing February because it contained the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. Well, we know Douglass was a black leader but not many Americans know that Lincoln was actually the typical white racist of his day. He was the product of the 19th Century and not particularly an advocate of racial equality. It has long been known that his Emancipation Proclamation was not about freeing black slaves as much as disrupting the economy in the Confederate states. Lincoln did not believe blacks should vote, serve on juries or marry whites. His philosophy was the typical white privilege of his day that survived another century in the Deep South.

    Now, have those actual historical facts been taught in either regular American History or Black History? I am very critical of the teaching of American History because of its omissions of fact. I understand the lies that we encountered in school during the McCarthy era, but it is time to teach about American Apartheid, which was every bit as bad as in South Africa. It is time we teach about miscegenation laws in nearly half the United States that kept blacks and whites from marrying each other until 1967.

    Which brings me to another point about "Black" History. Where do I fit in? I am a white man who married a black woman. Am I now part of Black History? Or, are there just as many blacks who agree with Lincoln that the races should not intermingle?

    On this same subject, to call Barack Obama black is as much of a lie as calling him white. He is mixed race and those who insist on his being black are acquiescing to the racist "one drop rule" from the old south where people were classified as either negro or white. Even those very light skin people with straight hair would be negro if anywhere in their lineage a black person could be found. Is this the reason Obama is considered "Black?"

    So, it is time to do away with Black History Month and bring Black Americans back into the whole picture of American History. Unless of course we want to make a Gay History Month where we mention all the homosexuals throughout history who contributed to our culture. Oh, wait, kick them all out of the closet and that pretty much covers the entirety of world history anyhow.

    What Do You think?
  2. waukegan

    waukegan Member

    i think how history is taught in school is important to the future.a good introduction to history which leads to a lifetime of learning and better understanding of the world.i'm not a big fan of designated learning because in the united states there is such a wide array of national origins.i would guess many black people feel the same far as what race,gender,religion etc a president is i don't understand the importance of it.i suppose because at one time only white male protestants would be eligible.but it's time to move on.....i'm not hundred percent against black history month cause i usually learn something new.i feel it is important to learn history though........edit about 5 weeks later :i had another thought on this matter but rather post again i decided to add to this post.a similar discussion on history spiraled downhill .i decided not to call attention to this disacussion since i've been the only one to respond...i gre up and still live in the capitol city of this state.near the capitol buildind stands the state historical society building built in 1918 about 15-20 years after the capitol bldg itself was completed.from a very young age i started going there every saturday morning and many times during the had exhibits on 3 floors and a great referance me just being able to go in that stately building was a great experience and really gave me an interest in history.i spent hours reading the old histories many of the books i imagine are very rare.the great thing about it was it was free.i very seldom had money(kind of like now i guess)but if i did have a nickle i probably bought a candy bar or baseball cards.....well about 20 years ago they built a new history center a ways away.a great big spacious building with many more exhibits,restaurant,book store and alot of interactive programs to say nothing of alot of open space that does nothing.also they started charging admission.10 dollars for adults.5 dollars for kids.i guess what i'm getting at is the older smaller bldg lit a fuse of interest to me.the new bldg is very distacting to the lacks the warmth of the old building(now used as a govt office bldg.)it seems represenitive of how history is taught now.i studied black history and all other kinds of history because i found it interesting and important.

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