When you were little, what did your school do for Black History Month? Did they have a guest speaker come? Did they assign projects on various black pioneers of past and present? For me, I remember doing a project on Rihanna in fifth grade. Of course, little ten-year-old me was excited. I was researching one of the most popular singers of my generation. However, as I got older, I realized why doing that project was so important.
As I grew older, I realized that February was not only the month we celebrate Valentine’s Day, but it’s the month we celebrate Black history, an annual month-long celebration of the achievements of African Americans and their contributions and central roles to the formation of this country.
As well as learning why we did that project in the fifth grade, I learned why people said things about my curly, natural hair. I learned why I was left out of certain friend groups, and why in some circles I was “too white” and in some circles I was “too black”. I learned why and how to change the way I speak around certain people, and why I was expected to act like Shananay from Martin when in reality my personality and composure matched one of a quiet, sometimes “spoiled” suburban kid.
Not fitting in and being an outcast comes and goes for almost every kid. There’s a pressure to be and act a certain way in order to meet the status quo. Most of all, as a kid, you just want friends. But if it weren’t for Black History Month, and my parents of course, I’m not sure I would realize the things I learned about my blackness, why people expected me to be a certain way, and why there were so many injustices to people with the same melanin in their skin as me.
The more I learned about Black History Month the more it empowered me, and made me see that there were so many possibilities for me, so many doors to be opened, and so many wrongs that I have the opportunity to make right in my lifetime, as others before me did.
In history class we learned about the American Revolution, and we learned about the first President of the United States. Rightly so, these topics are essential in learning how the country we live in was formed. However, it is just as essential to learn that during World War II, the Tuskegee airmen were responsible for escorting American bombers. It is just as essential to learn that for 400 years, African Americans were enslaved and oppressed, which translates to the years of systematic oppression and significant key aspects of black culture today.
Yes, it’s important to learn that Thomas Edison perfected the lightbulb. But it’s equally as important to learn that Lewis Latimer was the one who made sure light bulbs lasted longer than their original life span, which was three days. Why? Because when you’re young and trying to find your place in the world, it’s empowering to learn that someone that looked like you, and probably didn’t have a great time fitting in for the color of his skin, helped to perfect one of the staples of day to day living.
Just recently, at my internship, I was assigned to write a script for the TV station’s Black History Month promotion. At the end, I included a note about empowering Black children. I was then instructed to remove that part, and that we should empower all children, not just “the blacks.” I was also instructed to include a quote by Morgan Freeman saying that he does not want a Black History Month, and that Black History is American History.
Sure, that’s great. However, what people fail to realize is that shortly beforehand he asked the reporter, “are you going to relegate my history to a month?”
The reporter answered no, but what some fail to realize is, this is the reality. If we did not have Black History Month, we would not learn the pivotal contributions of African Americans to this country. I’m not just talking about Rosa Parks or Martin Luther King Jr. I’m talking about the orchestration of day-to-day luxuries we have as human beings such as long-lasting light, or a home security system, or an ironing board. Other than February, these key facts were never mentioned.
This is why the month was coined. Carter G. Woodson, who studied History at Harvard University, realized that African Americans were underrepresented in the books and resources that shaped American history. Why almost 100 years later we are still having the same problem, is not a question I can answer within this article.
Of course, Black History is American History, but it is not treated as such. So, I ask you again, reflect on what you did for Black History Month when you were little. Was it a project, listening to a speaker or going to a museum? Whatever it is, answer this follow up question.
Did it empower you? Or did it inform you? What weight does this month hold for you?