Since 1976, Black History Month is celebrated in the United States every February. And in recent years, the same question as to whether this annual observance is necessary — persists.
Black History Month is an important and necessary celebration of culture that also serves as a reminder of the inequality still present in society today. But the fact that it isn’t simply a celebration of culture on its own but also a way to highlight current injustices is not ideal.
Remembering the past
In 1915, Historian Carter G. Woodson was discussing a recent racist film called The Birth of a Nation with some colleagues when the conversation shifted. They began discussing how historians routinely left out African Americans in the narrative of U.S. history. After that initial meeting, they established the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. The organization began Negro History Week in 1926, intended to make American society aware of this historical imbalance and strive to correct such a grievous action.
What initially started in 1926 as a week dedicated to fighting ignorance grew into an annual, month-long national observance that aims to honor the often-neglected contributions of black Americans in history. In this sense, Black History Month is a necessity that promotes awareness about our country’s past. But naturally, as we learn about past injustices and the ways the country failed black Americans, it is impossible not to reflect on the current state of equality and racism.
By and large, living as a minority in America has changed for the better in recent years, but diversity & representation remains an ongoing issue in the workplace, in Hollywood, in schools, and in our country’s elected offices. White supremacy and the rise of neo-Nazis is not an uncommon headline. Hate and casual racism has been normalized among teenagers, on social media, and on college campuses through commonplace use of racial slurs and harmful stereotypes. While it is not a culture of racism, it is an issue that cannot be overlooked, especially in schools.
There is the idea that Black History Month is unnecessary because purposefully setting aside a month of the year only perpetuates the idea of separation. But honoring an important part of the past while celebrating culture is not separatist or dividing. Black History Month is a symbolic gesture that celebrates the past rather than a complete solution to an ongoing problem. And until there is truly equality in all senses, Black History Month remains necessary both as an observance of a crucial part of American history and also to spark discussion on how much there still needs to be done. Our study of history in the American education system does not fully incorporate the true scope of influence so Black History Month attempts to do this. It is the aim of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month in May and Hispanic Heritage Month in September as well. Black History Month is simply more prominent and widely known throughout the country.
Reflecting on the present
Initially conceived as a means to educate Americans on a part of history seemingly overlooked, Black History Month now demands a discussion about how modern education should go further. We learn about civil rights in U.S. History and the causes of the Civil War, but as a unit on its own. Slavery and its generational repercussions is part of the foundation of our country that is not continuously addressed in history textbooks or literature classes. The effects of slavery and the experiences of black Americans throughout history are not completely recognized in schools across the country. But the solution is not specific classes with the sole intent of teaching everything neglected in the past. Instead, learning about these crucial contributions to history should be seamless and interwoven into the current curriculum.
History can be empowering. Being able to identify with similar individuals and connect with one’s cultural background is important for the individual and society as a whole. Finding unity despite differences is an important lesson to learn. White history and achievements have always been given attention in history classes, literature, film, and music. It is time to give similar attention to marginalized groups who have greatly shaped our country’s history as well.
That reasoning can be applied to the often-debated idea of affirmative action, specifically in the college admissions process. In theory, affirmative action is a way to account for the institutionalized racism present in history for centuries. It is not to supplant others, but it can lead to a more diverse campus which in turn will benefit students due to more knowledge of other cultures and different backgrounds. However, affirmative action is a top-down approach that will not completely solve the issue. In communities across the country, there exists an opportunity gap that has resulted in a need for affirmative action policies. There should be more focus at a foundational level such as programs that guide first generation students or readily available standardized testing prep programs. Affirmative action policies cannot completely account for systemic issues.
Laws that work to create more diversity and equality will inevitably have to account for race. Even following the Civil Rights Movement, there was a difference between equality and integration. Simply removing race from the equation is not enough to fix every issue. Nobody wants preferential treatment, but the effort and having policies in place to attempt meaningful change is a necessary step forward until such policies are no longer needed.
In the end, we have not come far enough. The celebration of Black History Month will never be enough to overturn centuries of mistreatment. But it’s enough to shed light on how the way we have learned American history does not fully encompass the experiences of black people in America and their many achievements.
Black History Month is needed as a way to inform and educate society on the narrative of American history that has been underrepresented for far too long. There is significance in dedicating a time to appreciate aspects of our country’s history and culture. And as we continue to celebrate history during the month of February, we should also be building towards a future where it is not regarded as a necessity to facilitate change or seen as a necessity in the sense that it highlights current injustices. These injustices, in a future society, will not be there.
Let us one day be able to celebrate cultural diversity and history without any worry of overarching issues. We pride ourselves on being a culturally diverse nation — it is time for today’s society, laws, and schools to properly reflect the mosaic of backgrounds in our country.
While this staff editorial represents the views & opinions of the editorial board for the Howl, this staff editorial was written by Vivian La, the Opinion Editor for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl