Reflection: Why We Still Need Black History Month

Silhouette+of+an+African+American+woman+to+celebrate+Black+History+Month

Black History Month photo by Flickr user Sɨℓνεя Sɦɨɳε

Silhouette of an African American woman to celebrate Black History Month

Milyn Ross, Staff Writer

Black history is so easy, yet such a complex thing to understand. Everyone has their own opinions on it rather we need it or not. I think my father explained it to me the best. He said “It’s not like black people want a month, we need one.” We need one because our contributions to America are not acknowledged until February 1st, and quickly forgotten about on February 28th (or 29th in this case). Black people are basically insignificant until you’re sitting in an American history class and the unit is slavery. However, if we do that, then that’s only focusing on the bad part of what we went through. During Black History Month, we want to celebrate the great things that black people have done, not only in America, but what we did for America.

It’s not like black people want a month, we need one.”

— Leonard Ross III

Did you know that the greatest potato chip company Lays wouldn’t even be a thing if it wasn’t for George Crum?! George Crum was the inventor of the potato chip, and he was a black man! I bet you didn’t know that, but I bet you can tell me who gave the “I Have A Dream” speech. We love us some Dr. King, but we also need to love us some Ruby Bridges, Viola Davis, Katherine Johnson and Garret Morgan as well. That’s another reason why we need Black History Month; we need some variety in what and who we talk about. They all contributed to black culture, and we never talk about any of them. Ruby Bridges was only six years old when she walked into an all white school with her head held high. Katherine Johnson, who just passed away this week at the age of 101, was 39-years-old when she was added to the NASA team which was strictly whites only until she came in. There’s so many off the radar black people that I wish I could tell you guys about, but there’s not enough time in the world for us to make that happen.

All those great people don’t get the recognition that they need because we get lazy during Black History Month. As I stated before, we talk about slavery, the Harlem Renaissance and the Civil Rights movement, and that’s all. That’s not the end of the story, though; we should never stop there. Slavery especially is a sensitive topic in this month because people don’t understand that slavery isn’t a part of our history, and we don’t want to remember that during our month. I don’t think anyone has said it better than dub poet Allen Hope, better known as Mutabaruka, : “Slavery isn’t African history, it interrupted African history.” This quote really breaks it down in the best way possible. African culture existed before slavery happened, and it is still happening today after slavery happened. We don’t want to remember what our ancestors had to go through and how they had everything but their dignity stripped away from them. That’s why when we talk about Black History Month I feel like slavery should be left out of the conversation, period.

Another thing you have to understand when you are thinking about Black History Month is that it’s not supposed to make white people feel bad. And I’m sorry, but I’m about to be really honest, if you feel that it is “unfair” that black people have a month and white people don’t, then that’s a selfish way to think about it. Black History Month is for uplifting black people to make us feel like we are actually acknowledged and appreciated by the country we felt the most hurt by, and that should not make anyone feel upset. If we just think of the nature of the question – “why isn’t there a white history month?” – and the fact that it only comes up when we talk about Black History Month, it is sad. There is something selfish about thinking that white people need a month when already so much of our history classes are surrounded by what the white people in it did. 

Black History Month isn’t supposed to be something extra for black people, but something that instead levels the playing field. However, if we really think about it, and you think about your history classes, when else do we talk about what black people have done? Until you get to the sixties when you HAVE to talk about the civil rights movement and Martin Luther King and Malcolm X and Rosa Parks, black people are basically extinct after Harriet Tubman and slavery. That’s not good enough; there are things that we use everyday, and no one wants to acknowledge that we only have those things because a black person saw there was a need for it and they changed something. Did you know that the first successful open heart surgery was performed by a black man? His name was Daniel Hale Williams. 

The fact that we are taught that the history of the US started in 1776 with the Declaration of Independence instead of in 1619 when the first slaves arrived to help build this country is just sad. Daniel Hale is just one person that has helped save thousands of lives because of something that he did. As much as I wish that we didn’t actually need a Black History Month, we do. Until we actually get to the point where black people are represented just as much as white people and celebrated just as much for the things that they’ve done, we’re going to need one. Black History Month is a reminder: yes we have come far, but we haven’t gone far enough.