There have been ongoing debates as to the necessity, if not the validity of Black History Month, and, by extension, of Afro-American history. “After all,” as some have questioned with wry skepticism, “there is no such thing as a ‘White History Month,’ so why embrace the notion of a ‘Black History Month’?”
Again, some ask, “Why dredge up painful memories?” as if Afro-American history is only about slavery and the evils of slavery. “Why not forget about the past and reach out for the future? Why, Black History Month?” So goes the question; now to the answer.
If there was no marginalization of the historic contributions of Afro- Americans then there would be no need for a Black History Month. The concept was not born of racial or cultural inferiority nor was it the spawn of envy of the accomplishments of other ethnicities. Black History Month is a celebration. It is also a cry of protest for the rich heritage of a people to be integrated into what could be considered mainstream American history.
The desegregation of American history lags behind the events surrounding people of colour and behind their accomplishments in a post-segregation era, if such an era really exists. As long as we have Black history as an appendix to American history one has to question how truly united we are as a nation. Therefore, Black History Month is a time set aside for the soul-searching of a nation.
It is a mere 28 days on the social calendar, against a backdrop of hundreds of years of oppression and exploitation, to assess and, where necessary, to adjust the climate of our collective social consciousness. Only a few short decades separate us from the turbulence of the 1950s and 60s. It is, therefore, sheer naiveté to believe that the maladies of prejudice and intolerance have gone into remission, or have suddenly vanished from the national psyche. As long as there is ignorance and the risk of racial hatred, intolerance or discrimination there will be a need for such a time as this.
Black History Month is not a balm to soothe black egos. It does, however, seek to engender black pride. It is not, as it were, an idle tune or a symphony of sweet nothings. It is an anthem of truth and for truth. For it is only when this nation comes to terms with the contributions of this culture, and of all the other cultures that have been ignored or marginalized, that it will rise above itself and become a beacon of racial and ethnic unity to a world crying for social justice and peace.
Black History Month is not only an attempt to preserve African antiquity and the beauty and progress of the African Diaspora in North America, it is also an effort to preserve the hopes of their posterity. It is a time of remembrance, a cultural festival which points African Americans — especially our down trodden, disgruntled youth — away from crime, drugs and violence to a more positive means of self affirmation and self actualization.
It is not a time when we look at a supposed record of skin, but a time when we review an essay on spirit. It is not merely a time to recall what has been done to people of colour, but also a time to remember what has been done by people of colour. It is when we count all that we have as a nation and learn how best to use it. It is when we come to understand the words of John Donne, the 16th century English poet, that: “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main….”
It is a time for discussion. It is a sweet communion where we remember and immortalize the words of the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. A time he said “When the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners would sit down together at the table of brotherhood.”
It is a time to revisit his dream until that dream is realized in its fullness. It is not a time to dine on hurtful memories with anger and bitterness — as long as our pain has been — but to digest them with wisdom, to learn from them and to grow stronger because of them.
Black History Month is a classroom, and as long as the students — the young and the old, the rich and the poor, the black and the white — in all walks of life keep coming up with a failing grade due to our misunderstanding and our mistreatment of each other, then prudence dictates that school remains in session for as long as is necessary.