Another February is upon us. This also means that, in various quarters of the nation, people will engage in various celebrations and acknowledgments of the history of people of African descent. To put it more bluntly, Black History Month will be all the rage for the next few weeks.
For those of you who are unaware of its origins, the tradition of Black History Month originated in 1926 when esteemed Black historian and journalist Dr. Carter G. Woodson created what was at the time referred to as Negro History Week. The purpose of this was to coordinate the teaching of Black history in public schools. Woodson is considered by many academics to be the father of Black history.
While there were many Black studies departments and public organizations who engaged in month-long celebrations honoring individuals and events associated with Black culture, it was not until 1976 (the bicentennial) that Black History Month was officially designated by President Gerald Ford.
It should go without saying that Black History Month is indeed relevant. However, we still have a segment of people out there (including some people of color) who have taken issue with having such a celebration. The dissent is real. Therefore, for all you who take issue with the idea of Black History Month, hopefully the following will assist you in freeing your myopic mind.
· Black people have a distinct, complex and vibrant history. This is true of all ethnic and religious groups. That being said, the history of Black Americans in this nation is vastly distinct from others given the religious, economic, social, psychological and educational experiences. By exploring Black History Month, the nation is paying homage to a group of people who are strong, resilient, creative, largely committed to religion, spiritual, innovative, largely forgiving, distinctive and have contributed greatly to the enhancement of America.
· In a society where Black people are often routinely depicted as drains on and menaces to society, Black History Month often serves as a needed slice of factual history and opiate of sorts to counterbalance such routinely negative narratives.
· While the situation has improved somewhat, the fact is that distinctive and notable accomplishments of Black Americans are often marginalized and, in some cases, dismissed from the public discourse.
· Black History Month (especially in recent years) showcases the diversity and pluralism that has always been in ample supply in the Black community. Such diverse exposure demonstrates that the Black community is not a monolith but rather a great mosaic of talent.
· The fact is that Black Americans are not the only group of people who intensely celebrate their history. Here are a few other periods of celebrations of which you may be aware: March (Women’s History), April (Arab American Heritage), May (Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage), June (LGBTQ Pride), September 15 to October 15 (Hispanic Heritage) and November (Native American Heritage).
The fact is that anyone, regardless of race, gender, sexuality, religion, etc., should not be hesitant to embrace their entire selves. Black History Month provides Black Americans (as well as others) with more than a source of pride and admiration. It also serves as a crucial reminder to reflect upon our leaders and triumphs of yesteryear, a history that has largely defined with blood, sweat, pain, setbacks, victories and tears.
To be sure, there are still many ills which afflict the Black community that must and are being aggressively confronted. Despite misguided naysayers such as Stacey Dash (she has indeed been “clueless” as of late) and others who argue for the abolition of Black History Month, the fact is that it is a celebration that should be acknowledged every day of the year.
There is nothing wrong with pumping up the volume during one specific month.
Division Director, Division of Graduate Education
National Science Foundation
Dean of the College of Social Work
The University of Tennessee Knoxville
Dean of the Tickle College of Engineering
The University of Tennessee Knoxville