these 28 days in february – or 31 days in october elsewhere around the world like the netherlands and the united kingdom – that make up black history month always make me roll my eyes to the back of my head. maybe it’s because, growing up, i never felt connected to my blackness or my blackness never welcomed me, an alternative to the stereotype that society expects of my culture, of my people. (i continue to struggle with the identity crisis common of the “oreo,” a teetering between being too black for the white kids and too white for the black kids, a perpetual othering of my existence.) it’s probably always had something to do with the same handful of “heroes” we’re taught in school: the harriets and the malcoms and the martins and the rosas. but neither of these rationalizations, while close, really capture my disdain for the month.
i find the whole thing boring, less a celebration and more an obligation by, for, and to black people. you’re expected to show up, sit down, and listen to the same historical events ad nauseam. so-and-so did such-and-such in 19-whatever. refuse to be fed or even dare to question the same lukewarm bullshit all month long and you’re labeled anti-black, a “sheltered negro” who would rather appease whiteness than appreciate blackness. my problem with black history month, though, isn’t in its intentionality but instead in its impossibility of telling the complicated history of a centuries-long-oppressed people. i mean, distilling the 400-plus years of commodification and dehumanization of a group deemed just three-fifths a person even before conception to 28 or 31 days and tying a yellow bow on a black fist as if that’s the best gift black people could have asked for is laughable at best and maintains racism at worst.
with its roots first planted in 1926 by black historian carter g. woodson, the often-cited “father of black history” and founder of the association for the study of african american life and history, black history month wouldn’t become the paltry one-month-long holiday it is now until 40ish years later. it took a body of black people from kent state university to propose in 1969 that the holiday, called negro history week and relegated to just the second week of february for the 43 years of its existence, extend through the entirety of the calendar year’s shortest month. black history month was thus celebrated from january 2 to february 28, 1970 and the rest is history. but there’s a loophole here: anything created by black people around the impenetrable gates of segregation reinforces racism simply because it couldn’t freely and without prejudice exist inside those gates. think of black bars, black churches, black clubs, black theatres, all borne in historically disenfranchised ghettoes where money was tight but crime was plenty, places that continue to feel the weight of oppression economically and environmentally. these places were othered, and still are – just look at the disaster in flint, michigan. worse, whatever black people created in these places – art, fashion, music, all of culture – has been appropriated by white society, a not-so-subtle reminder that nothing belongs to us. not our history, not our creations, not our humanity.
that’s not to say black history month isn’t necessary for the preservation of blackness. without the holiday, my people would’ve easily been “exterminated,” as woodson argued in 1926 when demanding educators teach black history. despite the disconcerting repetition, we wouldn’t have learned about emit till if not for black history month. we wouldn’t have had to grapple with blatant systemic inequality and the resulting aftermath, the 1964 and current-era civil rights movements, if not for black history month. though it persists, we wouldn’t have seen the legal abolishment of segregation if not for black history month. the highs and lows, the successes and failures, all erased if black history month (and, by extension, negro history week) had not been established. oppression’s purpose is to keep those under it ignorant, and black history month is a direct counter to that. so it’s vital for the continued education of black people, both to black people and to other people. as woodson hoped in 1926 when advocating for negro history week, “let truth destroy the dividing prejudice of nationality and teach universal love without distinction of race, merit, or rank.”
but if we’re to teach “universal love without distinction of race,” then it’s time to integrate black history month, spreading it like rich butter across the banality of american bread. the idea that one race is celebrated for one month is antiquated and insulting. what stings more, though, is the casual way we move on after it all. it feels as if the world sighs once black history month ends because as soon as february wraps, the idea of black history – more specifically, the brief moments of adoration and raised fists and solidarity – is left in the ether, forgotten, only mentioned when black people are brutalized, criminalized, dehumanized, demonized, tokenized, murdered. to “teach universal love” is to teach it year long, month to month, day to day. black history month shouldn’t be just a single month. that concept, celebrating this oppressed group for just this time because they’re the oppressed group we’re supposed to celebrate, is oppression. it’s exactly how oppression is maintained: by compartmentalizing.
discrimination only ends when we see each other for what we are, not ignore our immutable facts – like those liberal elites (or white people) who “don’t see color” – or separate them into blocks of time that are only talked about in those moments. there needs to be an assimilation of races, not a compartmentalization. black history – and asian history and latinx history and trans history – should be part of the year-long educational system, just the same as white history is the main curriculum.