The 1st of February signifies the commencement of Black History Month, a time to honor and emphasize the importance of learning and celebrating Black history and culture. This year’s theme is “African Americans and the Arts.” While Black History Month takes place in February in honor of the birthdays of both Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln, the observation is a call to engage in a deeper understanding of Black history – one that highlights the entirety of the Black community and culture and subsequent infinite contributions to the world beyond the simplified study of only a few vastly known heroes.
Black History Month began in 1926 as a week of education and recognition initiated by Carter G. Woodson, co-founder of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH). His call to spend a week invested in a full education of Black history was met with an overwhelming supportive response. This week of pinpointing the significance and value of acknowledging the past as well as supporting the present and future of the Black community was extended into a month-long event in 1976 by President Gerald Ford.
“There is no American history without African American history.” This statement by Executive Director of the Antiracist Research and Policy Center Sara Kaplan embodies why the month’s call to action for widespread public education on Black history and culture is so important and points to the critical failure of both the American educational system and society as a whole to adequately recognize the history of minority-identified communities – at worst, complete erasure, and often times at best, a misrepresentation of the past so rushed and whitewashed it may be even more harmful.
An accurate viewing of the history of America reveals the countless (and often unrecognized) ways members of the Black community have forged the past, present, and future of the country. Despite the foundational economic growth traced directly to Black labor – both pre- and post-emancipation – African American workers were only introduced as a category to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics in 1972, 88 years after the bureau’s creation. Black communities battling systemic environmental racism were simultaneously leading many of the fights for positive environmental change and forming the modern environmental justice movement.
Dr. Danielle Morgan, Assistant Professor at Santa Clara University, pointed to Mike Pence’s 2017 address in which he introduced the beginning of Black History Month with the story of Abraham Lincoln as a perfect example of why the awareness and public call to action incited by this month remains as important as ever: “A month celebrating the accomplishments of Black people was introduced by a vice president celebrating the accomplishments of a white man. I guess even Black History Month isn’t safe from appropriation.”
The vastness of underrepresented cultural and historical topics within the broad category of Black history Informs the most crucial aspect of Black History Month: it shouldn’t just be a month. Even then, the core message of Black History Month is to inspire continuous education and activism in all areas of life – the classroom, the home, the workplace, and beyond – to cultivate widespread public understanding and recognition as well as repair the disastrous erasure and misrepresentation of Black history. The very fact that Black history is often isolated within an “official” time span not even 30 days long is representative of the issue on its own.
Holiday background and social justice:
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