by Latoya Peterson
Every year, in February, I receive the same two things:
(1) A bunch of targeted marketing surrounding black history month. (McDonald’s celebrates 365 black with a Big Mac! Chrysler salutes African Americans!)
(2) The predictable “When is Black History Month going to be over?” emails, requests, and newspaper articles.
One shining exception is Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “Black History Month. Meh.” post, where he writes:
I think people who want to get rid of Black History Month are only slightly less annoying than people who complain about Kwanzaa. Yes, it’s true–Bob Johnson and Michael Jordan weren’t what Carter G. Woodson had in mind. But the true mark of a movement’s success is its descent into hackery. Black people don’t get to pick and chose what aspects of America we want to integrate into. We have to take it all. White people who complain that there is no “White History Month,” much in the way that one might complain that there is no “Black Rapper Show”, merit no real response, except that we all look forward to a day when there is one.
Me on the other hand, I tired of black history month, circa 7th grade. True, I did do a recital of Marcus Garvey’s “Look For Me In The Whirlwind” at the “Black Awareness Assembly” in 12th grade. But mostly when I think of Black History Month, I think of being made to watch footage of Negroes getting the shit kicked out of them, and then Negro teachers extolling the nobility of letting someone kick the shit out of you. You can imagine how well that went over in West Baltimore at the height of the Crack Age. And then there was, as one of my editors put it, the “I Am Somebody” bullshit, in which you were forced to memorize a litany of black achievement facts. The goal seemed to be to prove that my history took to rote for just as well as anybody’s. I too can be reduced into a list of facts, America.
Meh, indeed. I’m only moved to comment on Black History Month when some fool is adamant that we’ve outgrown the need for it, despite showing their ignorance in, say, a letter to the editor.
So, when Carmen dropped me an email with yet another article asking if its “Time to End Black History Month,” I admit, I just yawned. I can’t muster up the same righteous indignation year after year. It is what it is, and as someone who recalls being in multiple black history month school events (as Wilma Rudolph (twice), Ida B. Wells, singing Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing more times than I can count, and reciting both “Mother to Son” and “A Dream Deferred” in my K-12 career) I can see both the arguments for maintaining black history month and quietly integrating it into the official curriculum.
Yet upon further reflection, I realized that I actually would oppose such a move. Why?
Because the way we teach history in America is guaranteed to leave people with the wrong ideas about a lot of crucial moments in our history. Continue reading