In 1926, when Carter G. Woodson first advocated for “Black History Week,” not only were the contributions of African descendants ignored, but American history was deliberately whitewashed (pun intended). Those responsible for writing what we now accept as the popular history of this country whitewashed the contributions of people of color, whitewashed the white-supremacist aspect of the country’s foundation and history, and whitewashed the generational impact—economic, legal, political, business—of those decisions.
In the time between 1926 to 2010, much has changed, especially as it relates to the laws and customs that upheld racial oppression. The change is undeniable and should rightfully be celebrated, even as we continue to live with the impact of the legacy of American Apartheid.
So do we still need one month to emphasize and “celebrate” Black History? Here is an alternative: Let’s do an overhaul of what is represented as “American History” so that the history of those of European descent is not over-represented, while the histories of others who make up and contribute to this country are under-represented.
Every citizen should expect a more comprehensive and inclusive American history to be taught in schools each and every month of the year. As a country we should be ready to accept a history that is more truthful in its inclusiveness and in its honest recognition of the country’s deeply flawed character as relates to its citizens of color, without turning away, denying, or minimizing historical racial oppression or its continuing economic, educational, and social impact on Americans of African descent and other people of color.
Finally, I would audaciously propose that we take care to contextualize the history of this country in a way that emphasizes thoughtful and inclusive context over American mythology. Let’s go deeper than the use of constant staples such as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, and others whose lives and stories only skim the surface of a vibrant and robust history and the meaningful contributions of African descendants in America. Let’s stop framing their stories in a way that strips them of their essence and re-packages them in ways that negate the context of the times and the veracity of their causes.
Let’s go deeper than re-working the history of African descendants and other people of color to ensure that they are a “comfortable” fit for a historical context that is viewed from the lens of American mythology (“land of the free, home of the brave,” “all men created equal,” and the like) and from the lenses and perspectives of those who have had and continue to have a clear bias and agenda in promoting and maintaining this mythology.
The fact that there is still a need for Black History Month instead of a wholesale incorporation of it in American History—from the lenses and perspectives of those who generationally experienced the “backside” of the American experience—speaks volumes about who we are as a country; how we (still) feel about the truth of our history; and how far we have, and have not, come.