An Authentic Integration of Black History

Heading, Black History Month, zigzag border, Color
Heading, Black History Month, zigzag border, Color

Were it not for Google, I might have forgotten that February 1 began Black History Month. But the illustration by Richie Pope honoring Frederick Douglass on the search engine would not allow me to forget.

Black History Month, in its current form, says so much about who we are collectively as a nation. The genesis of the current Black History Month began in 1915, 50 years after the 13th Amendment abolished slavery in the United States.

Carter G. Woodson and Jesse Moorland founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. In 1926, the organization sponsored a national Negro History week. It chose the second week in February to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln (Feb. 12) and Douglass. Although the exact date of Douglass' birth was unknown, he selected Feb. 14. Since 1976, every U.S. president has officially designated the month of February as Black History Month.

In its current hackneyed state, Black History Month has largely morphed into a series of unimaginative events that depend more on rote memorization than examining the larger implications.

It is to repeat the last five minutes of Martin Luther King's keynote address at the March on Washington without an appreciation for the first 12 minutes. It is to know that Rosa Parks was arrested for not relinquishing her seat on the segregated Montgomery bus system void of the previous contributions of Claudette Colvin.

It is to somehow believe sophomoric historical examples that are rolled out for 28 days (29 this year) will somehow suffice. Perhaps the country would benefit from a serious undertaking that included the systematic elimination of Black History Month in its present form?

If you just cheered uncontrollably because you read into my last statement that I am advocating for the end of reverse racism or felt the need to read no further because you felt that I'm merely regurgitating the recent uninspired argument raised by actress Stacey Dash, you may be contributing to America's social stagnation.

Though Winston Churchill was right in that "History is written by the victors," it does not ensure an accurate account. History is a narrative that informs us of whom we were, providing some insight of who and what we are today.

But the mosaic that is America cannot be condensed into a single narrative, or for that matter a single month. A nation formed on the basis of an idea (equality) must also possess the maturity to withstand the tension that is created organically by competing perspectives within the same event.

Black history in its present form, whether a single month commemoration or part of an ongoing pedagogy, denotes adjunct status. In doing so, it suggests that it need not be taken seriously, at least not by those who see no direct biological linkage to the history.

Such thinking does everyone a disservice because, in the final analysis, American history is pregnant with irony and absurdity, as well as high and low moments.

Why isn't the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and '60s taught universally, not as something that improved conditions for black Americans, though it did, but also as something that made America better?

Does it require that one must be black to learn from the examples of Sojourner Truth, Ida B. Wells and Fannie Lou Hamer, as well as other courageous women?

But an authentic integration of what is now considered black history I fear is much easier said than done. Here is where America becomes constrained by an acute form of arrested development.

Proponents of Black History Month in its current form portray themselves as standing at the vanguard, valiantly protecting what Woodson and Moorland started over a century ago.

It leads to the question: Are the reasons that necessitated Negro History Week in 1926 the same reasons to sustain in its present form today?

There is nothing to suggest there would be an authentic effort to integrate the history so that it is reflective of myriad people with varying cultures and how they have realized the American experiment.

So we remain content to be one nation with multiple histories operating on parallel tracks. Shouldn't we instead strive to be a nation with a single history, but with the courage to embrace multiple versions of the same narrative?