It’s February. The groundhog has seen his shadow, Valentine’s Day is on the horizon, and best of all, it’s Black History Month.
Recently a controversial interview with Stacy Dash weighing in on #Oscarsowhite has hit the Internet world, hard. Among other problematic proclamations, Ms. Dash claimed that there should not be a Black History Month because it, as well as black-centered media (see: BET), fosters segregation. While Stacy Dash has received her fair share of deserved cyberspace criticisms, I felt it my duty to explain not only why there should be a Black History Month, but also why it is our responsibility to celebrate it.
The month that we know now began as a humble week in 1926 when Dr. Carter G. Woodson established it after noticing how black folks were either misrepresented or completely left out of educational curricula. To combat that, he established Negro History Week in February – not because it’s the shortest month, as many black folks believe – but in order to honor Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln’s birthday.
Since that time it has expanded fourfold and is honored throughout the U.S. and abroad, but why? Why do we still celebrate black history month when slavery is so far behind us? Why do we still celebrate this month when we no longer live under the laws of Jim Crow? Why set aside a time for one group of people and not others?
Truth is, the answers are in the questions. While slavery and Jim Crow are central to the story of black folks in America, they aren’t the only chapters. The identity of black folks surpasses that of chains and shackles, of segregated water fountains, and of long marches to freedom. Even though those stories must be told, they aren’t the only ones.
There are so many other stories. We need Black History Month to tell those stories because a black girl in Louisiana needs to know that she can be an entrepreneur because Madame C.J. Walker was too. A young black boy in Baltimore needs to know the power of his mind to invent, challenge, and experiment like Benjamin Banneker. A young white boy in Georgia needs to understand the spirit of black folks far exceeds the limitations placed on them by the media. A white girl in Mississippi needs to see the images of Ruby Bridges desegregating schools to understand the ladders her black peers have had to climb to enjoy the same freedoms she does.
We need Black History Month so America knows that black folks have contributed more to this country than AIDs statistics and felony records. We need Black History Month to remember how far we’ve come and how far we have to go. We need to remember because American lives are shaped by these stories. Black history IS American history, even if it feels like the proverbial skeleton in our closet.
Frankly, I would be afraid of an America that did not honor this month. Without it, I, a black woman, would be forced to believe the degrading stories told about me, and I just can’t afford to be that #Clueless.