Why I'm So Over Black History Month
Every year, the shortest month of the year is dedicated to celebrating the history of blacks.
High schools all over North America put on assemblies and put on an ethnic façade while some teachers just wonder about how they’re going to make up for the class time that they and their students are missing.
I know this because I went to high school. And I specifically remember one of my grade 10 teachers whining about the assembly, in a way that no one would have whined about a Remembrance Day assembly, not even a spirit assembly.
It got me thinking, even all those years ago, about why we still celebrate black history month. And about whether we even should. And about why, this month, I will hear more about Valentine’s Day than I will about my people.
In my eyes, black history month is a sad excuse that society uses as a means of defending it’s systemic and widespread racial issues.
Kind of like the people that keep that one black friend as an acquaintance so that when they’re accused of being racist they can say, “I’m not racist, I have black friends.”
Thanks, but no thanks.
I don’t feel the way I do because of the teacher that doesn’t care. I don’t feel the way I do because I feel our history isn’t important. I don’t feel the way I do because I’m angry at white people. I’m not angry at all. I’m just hungry for some change.
History is taught very early on in the public school system. I learned my white history, my mom’s history-Christopher Columbus, Henry Hudson, Napoleon Bonaparte, Sir Francis Bacon, John Locke-all before high school and then even more once I arrived there.
I learned about Jewish history, the holocaust, the horrifying truths of Auschwitz, Dachau, Sobibor, and Ravensbruck, the inspirational and heart-wrenching story of Anne Frank, all before I hit grade ten.
I learned about Chinese empires. Canadian wars. How America became America. But it wasn’t until grade eleven that I, by chance, took an elective that was barely worth a credit in the eyes of administration and learned my black history, my father’s history. Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X and Dr. Carter G. Woodson, to who we owe the pleasure of having a month at all.
The problem, or just a small, tiny sliver of it, is the way in which it’s taught, or not taught in most cases.
The public school system teaches us about slavery before they teach us about the African kings and queens that characterized the societies-the same ones that were stolen from their own soil.
So what about the kids that don't take the elective? What about the kids that enjoy family studies more than they enjoy history, I imagine there would be a lot, for obvious reasons. More importantly, what about schools that don't even offer African history classes? I imagine there would be a lot, also for obvious reasons.
The point is, if I hadn’t taken that elective, I would’ve lived my life thinking that my black history was only about slavery. Thinking that it was only about the Transatlantic Slave Trade. They taught me all of this before they ever even mentioned the effects and the legacies of what this would do to black people, my people, most of which I had to discover for myself.
And to make up for it all, we are given a month, the shortest month of the year, to compensate for how robbed we were and still are.
In spite of all this, it’s an offer we shouldn’t accept.
I’m sick and tired of imagining all the little boys and girls who are taught that society is built to break them down, and that they should either expect to fail, or expect to have to work ten times harder than the average person. And by the time they reach the age of lost hope, it’s because of some reason other than what we promised them it would be.
I got lucky because I learned about my white history before I learned about my black history; I was built up before I was broken down. I was blissfully ignorant enough to believe that I was built to succeed because that’s what my people, well, half of my people, had been doing since the beginning of time, in one way or another.
But I remember my self-esteem plummeting when I learned about the tragic history of Africans. The tragedy that was slavery, the pain that was their kidnapping, and the sad realization that sure, I was from a long lineage of kings and queens, but I was also from a lineage of corn pickers, women who were raped and beaten and sold and traded and not free.
If I had learned about Queen Nzingha, Nefertiti, Tutankhamun, Ramesses II, and Hatshepsut before I learned about slavery, I would have understood that slavery wasn’t the beginning of my people. But more importantly, I would learn that it wasn’t the end of my people either.
Whenever a rumor breaks out in school, the subject of that rumor impatiently awaits the day where they can get back to their life as usual without being haunted by that rumor.
But if that rumor is all that person hears about day in and day out, they eventually succumb to the effects of that rumor and believe they are what the rumor says they are.
And the rumor about us is that we’re not kings and queens, not in the eyes of the people spreading it, anyway. We’re slaves, we’re niggers, we’re subordinate, we’re inadequate, we’re not meant to succeed, we’re less capable, we’re criminals, we’re from broken families and an even more broken society, hell, we are the broken part of the society; we’re the others.
I’m not saying to let go of our history, I’m saying to let go of the effects of how holding onto it has diminished much of what we are, the solidity of our family units, the strength in our men, the alliance between our women, and most importantly, the identity in which we assign to ourselves.
I’m saying it’s time to be, time to make, ourselves equal.
You want to fix this? Teach us our history. Give us promotions, not because you need more black executives for the sake of your company’s appearance, but because we earned it. Stop thinking that a black president means racism is dead. Stop thinking that having black friends means you yourself aren’t racist. Stop thinking that you have to sing rap lyrics everytime we come around. Stop calling us “coloured”; black is fine. We don't call you caucasian anymore and everyone else gets grouped into the "coloured" group while white people still get to be white. Stop touching my hair and saying it’s “ethnic”. Stop thinking that living in a place like Toronto means you get it.
Because you don’t. And I’m not even sure I do.
Maybe I don’t. Maybe it’s because I’m half white. But if our history is going to be taught in a way that depletes the very essence of who we are, the approach needs to change.
But what I do get is that we need to take the burst of energy that comes around in February towards the education of our history, divide, then multiply that amongst the other eleven months. We need to take it out of the hands of just black people and put it into white hands, Asian hands, Middle-Eastern hands, and to put it into their hands is to put it into their minds. We need to stop treating each history-stop teaching each history-as if one is more important than the other.
And if that’s not true, tell me why Canadian kids can tell you every province but couldn’t tell you where human civilization began? Why do American kids, even the black ones, know every single one of the 51 states but couldn’t tell you the 47 countries in Africa? Why do North Americans spend hundreds of dollars on Jordans and Nikes but give weird looks to the kid that wears traditional African clothing?
White history doesn’t matter more in April than it does in May. So my history will mean just as much to me in
March as it does in February.