White responses to the latest wave of Black Lives Matter protests show that Black History needs more than just 28 days of recognition.
By Juno Kelly.
The premise for Black History Month was set in 1926, when historian Carter G. Woodsen introduced its precursor, “Negro History Week,” across the United States. Carter’s aim was to combat the fact that educational institutions tended to whitewash history and forgo the teaching of slavery and racial discrimination across the country. In the ’70s, academic institutions extended the event to span a full month, making a point of recognizing Black historical figures, authors, and events for the entirety of February.
Today, Black History Month is officially acknowledged and celebrated not only in the U.S. but in Canada, Ireland, and the U.K. Although Woodsen invented “Negro History Week” in an attempt to celebrate Black history in a country where its teaching is often stymied, he hoped that one day Black History would be so widely understood that the week would no longer be needed. One day, he anticipated, U.S. citizens would “willingly recognize the contributions of black Americans as a legitimate and integral part of the history of this country.” Over the past several years, as racial consciousness has received more mainstream coverage, journalists, scholars, and activists have criticized the month for limiting the exploration of Black history to just one month, when it should be studied and observed all year round.
2020, in particular, has served to highlight the problematic nature of designating just one month a year to Black history. Galvanized by the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and more at the hands of police, Black Lives Matter organizers coalesced the masses to attend protests across the U.S. and the world. However, amidst the conversations that ensued, a plethora of white people came forward to express shock at statistics pertaining to systemic racism and Black people’s stories of both overt everyday racism and microagressions. The disparity between white and Black peoples’ understanding of racism was highlighted in an October 2020 study by PEW research center, which revealed that while Hispanics and Black Americans believe “the country hasn’t gone far enough when it comes to Black people having equal rights with White people,” “the views of White Americans are virtually unchanged.” The study also found that 78 percent of Black people say “it is very important for people in the U.S. to educate themselves about the history of racial inequality in the country,” while only 42 percent of white Americans agree.
Evidently, the policy and behavioral changes that BLM protestors are exacting is critical. If one month dedicated to Black History were enough, history wouldn’t keep repeating itself; racially motivated police killings wouldn’t remain widespread, perpetrators wouldn’t continue to have impunity, white supremacists wouldn’t have stormed the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to keep a president supportive of racist policies in office, and white people wouldn’t remain shocked by the atrocities against Black people that have been occurring for centuries.
Black history is human history. It’s up to the department of education, the mainstream media, and individuals taking it upon themselves to self-educate, to ensure that Black History is not relegated to once a year and re-hashed only when we catch racism on camera.