By Ahtiya Liles
Growing up in a predominantly black private school in The Bronx for 9 years definitely has its perks. My school The Learning Tree was very big on promoting a safe space for little black girls and little black boys, teaching us our history in a manner that we won’t be taught anywhere else. This meant that every year for Black History Month, we went hard. I’m talking about Black History (and Kwanzaa in December) programs in February where we would re-enact famous civil rights scenes, do poetry by black poets, dance to famously black songs, and show depictions of slavery in America. There was always at least one scene about the slave trade and how my ancestors were stolen from Africa and brought to America. My appreciation for black people ran deep and, for the most part, throughout the entire year.
Fast forward almost six years since the time I graduated and I find myself wondering: Is Black History Month doing the black community any good? Is it still necessary?
Morgan Freeman once said in an interview that he wanted the entire concept of Black History Month abolished. His reasoning was that black history is American history. Black people have been in this country for a very long time, and if it weren’t for slave labor or great black thinkers, inventors, artists, and etc., this country would not be as advanced as it is right now. Mr. Freeman is right: the contribution that black people have made to this country is insurmountable. Why is it that we dedicate only a month to acknowledging these great black people. By raising our fist and our black, red, and green flags only in February (or even in December), we’re giving America a pass. We’re saying, “hey, it’s totally okay that you teach my history as an elective and barely teach black history in American history classes, but since we have this month that happens to be the shortest month of the year, I’m not even going to complain.” Black History Month is America’s cop-out. If I’m going to appreciate black history, I’m going to do it throughout the entirety of the year and not just because White America tells me it’s okay to celebrate for 28 or 29 days out of 365 (or 366).
Also, another problem I have with the way we handle Black History Month is that we celebrate the same fifteen to twenty people, as if there weren’t thousands of black people who were essential to our history. Yes, MLK, Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Sorjourner Truth, Madame C.J. Walker, George Washington Carver, Harriet Tubman, and Frederick Douglass all did wonderful things in terms of the advancement of black people. What about all the other people, huh? And also, I get that it’s Black History Month, but I’m always inclined to think about the essential and relevant black leaders of now. Don’t get me wrong: I’m a firm believer in knowing and appreciating the past as a means of knowing your future, but what about now? What about the leaders of the Black Lives Matter Movement or the President of the NAACP or anyone else? We’re fighting our own damn civil rights movement right now in 2016. If we’re going to go along the same vain that black people need a month where we are given permission to be unapologetically black, why not make this a Black Appreciation Month? Let’s appreciate and celebrate the black people who are making a difference right now (through music, acting, writing, civil activism, etc.), as well as the ones who came before us? I mean, in all reality, I think the month should just be slowly phased out of our society.
On the other hand, though, I fully understand why we have it. After the educational background I had as a child, you best believe I fully understand and appreciate why we have and probably still need Black History Month. America has done a great job at white-washing history and imposing the erasure of the black voice. Black History Month was like their way of reparations, a way for the government to give the black people something without actually giving us anything concrete. My ancestors could have actually stood on land or held money in their hands, but I can’t grab a month in a made up calendar year and hold it for myself.
I will say that Black History Month, in its original intents and purposes, had the right idea. It was a way of acknowledging and appreciating the great black Americans who have contributed greatly to this country. It’s a way of paying homage, of recognizing these great people and not letting their contributions go unrecognized. I can respect that and appreciate this fact. In the past few months as February approached and began, I found myself, as a black person who was raised to love and cherish this month, wondering if Black History Month was living up to its fullest potential and doing our community any justice. Do we circulate these images of influential black people on Facebook only during this month? Why not the entire year? Why can’t #blackhistorymonth transition to #blackhistory? Our history deserves more than a month. I’m stuck between a crossroads because, in a perfect or even just better society, Black History Month could easily be phased out and the history of black people would just be integrated into our education systems and appreciated throughout the entire year. I realize, however, that we are very far from the society I would like us to live in, but that still doesn’t stop me from feeling very conflicted.
What do you think? Should Black History Month stick around or is it something that needs to be eradicated completely? Comment below and let me know!