I know. It sounds crazy — like something that you might hear at a Tea Party rally, or from a political pundit spouting some notion that minority people get special privileges, while ignoring white privilege. It’s a ludicrous idea, but let me break it down for you.
When my mother was in a segregated school in southwestern Virginia, instead of Black History Month, we had a week. Historian Carter G. Woodson created “Negro History Week,” as it was then called, to give more of a purpose to the week that corresponded to Abraham Lincoln’s and Fredrick Douglas’ birthdays. That was way back in 1926, when media representations of black people were limited to racist caricatures. During the Black Power movement, the Black Student Union at Kent State proposed extending the week to a whole month. It felt like a victory when President Gerald Ford officially recognized Black History Month in 1976, but now I propose getting rid of the whole thing.
If you have made it this far and not given up on my proposal, you might be asking yourself why. Well, it is simple. 28 days are not enough, and neither are 29. Black history is American history. No one proposes that January be white history month — I mean, “Euro-American History Month” (my bad, Rep. Scalise and Mr. Duke).
In every history book, every month, every day, Eurocentric history is celebrated and studied as part of American history. It should be, because in spite of the wholesale destruction of native peoples, the raping and pillaging of non-European settled land, a great nation was built. However, the nation was not built alone.
Black men and women placed this nation on their backs, and with their actual blood, sweat and tears, and over their dead bodies, built this nation alongside countless other oppressed peoples. Black people epitomize the rags to riches, bootstrap mentality that is the American mythos. In America, black people are the true Horatio Alger. In a few generations, black people went from property to politicians, professors, doctors and lawyers. So, why, as Americans, as patriots, would we celebrate this group of people for a mere 28 (or sometimes 29) days a year? We shouldn’t. We should celebrate them all 365 days.
When Herbert Hoover coined the term “Rugged Individualism,” he was talking about people out in the American frontier doing a quintessentially American thing: surviving. These people forged a path for themselves without the government’s support, which became a standard to live up to. President Hoover did not know then that what he was really describing was the barren frontier of America racism. Yet, in the face of that hardship, black people did what Americans do. They survived.
Surviving is something that unites us. It binds us in a way that we do not always see. In a time when we can seem so far apart due to the turmoil and strife throughout our country, we should embrace our shared history. We really are one people with one history that is absolutely American. We spend so much time looking at how we are different that we forget how alike we really are.
When you get down to it, the core of what it means to be American was written all those years ago by those imperfect men: “We the people.” They didn’t write, “those people” or “them people,” but “We the people.” It is not the history of “them people” or “those people.” It is the history of “We the people.” It is the history of the American people.
By getting rid of Black History Month, we will no longer allow the rest of them (whoever “they” happen to be) to relegate our history to 28 days out of every 365. If we get rid of Black History Month, it will be our (and I mean everyone’s) responsibility to fill all 365 days with a celebration of our shared history. Our inclusive American history will include the placed, the displaced, the oppressed, the aggrieved and the ignored. It will be a first step in removing the “us versus them” mentality that gets us to choose sides. If we can all agree that 28 days are not enough, then it is the first step in agreeing that we are one people.
Let’s get rid of Black History Month because 28 days are not enough for our history. We need more days.