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Black History Month

My 100th post is quickly approaching, but so is the deadline for my first short story in W203. Due to its length, I will most likely have to break up the story into 2 or 3 sections, which worries me because I do not want one of those posts to be my 100th. I wish to celebrate my 100th post properly. Therefore, I will have to reach the milestone before I put up my story.

With that being said, I have decided to post my feelings on Black History Month. I was going back and forth on this because my beliefs on the issue aren't popular with a lot of people, regardless of race. (Not that a lot of people will read this anyway.) All I ask is that you read everything before you pass judgment. I will try to explain my point of view the best I can.

Although I knew Black History Month started out as "Negro History Week," I didn't know until I researched it, that this week in February was chosen because it contained both the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. In 1976, this week was expanded into the month-long celebration we know today as Black History Month. It was a move designed to do many things, the most important probably being to recognize forgotten black history makers and to help educate children on the importance of diversity.

Unfortunately, that is not what Black History Month is today. It is not a celebration; it is a marketing ploy and a game of Trivial Pursuit.

Every year I see a myriad of companies promoting Black History Month in their advertising, usually ending with the tagline, “Help us celebrate all year long.” The McDonald’s commercial from a few years back comes to mind. It was a simple commercial promoting diversity and it ended with the same request. “Help us celebrate black history all year long.” Care to guess when that commercial stopped airing? You got it, March 1st.

McDonald’s doesn’t give a damn about black history. All they want is for you to see that advertisement and think to yourself, “Gee, what a nice company. McDonald’s is a caring corporation.” If McDonald’s really cared, they would air the commercial in April, May, and June, right? Well, it’s not that simple.

If McDonald’s ran that advertisement in April, May, and June, this is what people would say. “It’s not even Black History Month. What is this commercial doing on television?” And believe it or not, people would write McDonald’s telling them that it’s not February and they screwed up by running this ad in a month that isn’t designated for black history. So what you see instead, are companies trying to exploit Black History Month for sales and/or a better image by running a bunch of diversity messages down your throat. Remember that nice Coca Cola commercial that ran during the Superbowl? Count how many times you see it after the next 8 days.

In the hall of a dining court I frequent, a bulletin board says, “A Day Without Black Inventors…” It goes on to list several inventions you already know by now were created by black individuals because that’s all you ever heard growing up. Every February I learned about the same three people; Rosa Parks, Dr. King, and Harriet Tubman. And that only lasted about 2 weeks total. It seemed as though once you got past the basic history of those three, you had done your duty as a teacher. Then I got to middle school and they added to those three a list of black inventors and their corresponding inventions.

At the high school level, and surely at the college level, I have seen more of an effort to educate, but it’s the same basic idea. It’s not that Parks, Dr. King, and Tubman aren't worthy to be exalted; I just don’t see much of an effort by any educative body to truly explore diversity and the historical impact made by black Americans. I’m not saying that we should teach the history of Huey Newton to children, because certainly no first-grader on the planet could comprehend the social impact or the importance of the Panthers or the Black Power Movement. All I’m saying is that more needs to be done.

To relegate black history to February goes against everything Black History Month is supposed to stand for. Garrett Morgan developed the gas mask and the traffic signal because he knew they were necessary devices. Revolutionaries like Dr. King, Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, and Stokely Carmichael, among numerous others, stood on principles and changed things for the better. This is why they should be celebrated, not because they’re black.

Black history is American history and should be treated as such. It should be included in textbooks alongside European history, Asian American history, and every other people’s history. While I fear that centuries of European ethnocentrism will not allow this to happen any time soon, (for reasons too multiple and complex to be listed) I hope that the second month of each year can simply be known as February and not as the only month it is acceptable to discuss the immeasurable impact of a countless number of black Americans.