Or more to the point, what have we achieved by the (mostly ceremonial) naming of February as Black History Month? Black History for better or for worse is happening every day. A month to commemorate black history and celebrate significant achievements as determined by a small group of people is not really breaking any new ground.
My biggest problem with this label has more to do with what is celebrated during this month. Black History Month tends to be less ‘black’ history and more ‘black American’ history. Black history, as far I know, read and learned over the years, didn’t start at Plymouth Rock, Little Rock or Birmingham.
Black history is world history, and failing to educate people young and old on the contributions of people of African descent throughout time and around the globe is a slight that cannot be overlooked no matter how well intentioned the agenda being followed.
I know there are those out there that will question my reasons for saying this, and raise the tried and true arguments of “well, you are in the USA, blah, blah, blah….” All good and well, but the name given by others is all encompassing: Black History. Who and what defines black history? The contributions of African Americans cannot be discounted and deservedly needs to be celebrated, but America is a ‘young’ country in terms of global history, and the many advancements and achievements that has marked the two millennia of America while amazing is still a fraction of world history.
When talk of black history is brought up at this time of the year, I hear the names of Martin Luther King, Harriet Tubman and Langston Hughes. Are their contributions any more significant than the struggles and achievements of Toussaint L’Ouverture, Hannibal, Alexander Dumas or Shaka Zulu? I think not. There is no African American writer (and very few American writers of any race) who can be put in the same category as Alexander Dumas, but are students learning about him when they read his books? We hear, learn and teach about Jackie Robinson, but how about Arthur Wharton, the first black professional football player who in England during the 1890’s? That’s approximately half a century before Jackie Robinson stepped on a baseball diamond in a Dodgers uniform.
Black history is world history; the story of the human race begins in Africa and no one has an exclusive right to it. If we’re celebrating black history, we need to celebrate all of it. We need to remember those who charted the course we are on now; the ones who fought and made significant contributions across the globe. We need to not forget our history, but in 2011 we should place less emphasis on the slave-trade to civil rights period and more emphasis on the world leaders in the military, in the arts and in politics, centuries ago and today.
Or more succinctly in the words of Marcus Garvey “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.”