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A Time for Reflection: The Evolution and Significance of “Black History Month”

Op/Ed By Howard Eagle

 

howard newFirst and foremost, people of African descent who are in our right minds, will be forever thankful for our magnificently-outstanding  ancestors, such as Dr. Carter G. Woodson (‘Father of Black Education’) for, among many other important accomplishments, establishing The Journal of Negro History in 1915, and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, which later became the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, and of course, Negro History Week in 1926.

We are also thankful and indebted to those who continued to perpetuate and advance Dr. Woodson’s ideas and work — to the extent that the U.S. Congress decided some 60 years later to embrace the idea and make it “official” — so to speak (via passage of legislation).

Thus, the formalization of Black History Month, in 1986.

But, hopefully, since 1926 (nearly 100 years ago), our people have advanced to the point of understanding that “Black History Month” begins January 1st, and ends December 31st (annually).

In addition to paying homage and reverence to our ancestors by acknowledging and celebrating their achievements and contributions to this thoroughly racist, white-supremacist-based nation-state, and reflecting (hopefully in very serious and deep manners) regarding our overall, historical, sojourn and collective experience — what “Black History Month” always reminds me of — is how slick and deceitful many white intellectuals really are, and how many of them continue to skillfully utilize their racist, white-supremacist-based institutions to distort, retard, and downplay the continued urgency of our historic struggle for justice and equality, and how many also continue to systematically advocate and promote, ongoing, chronic, gradualism.

In the coming weeks — intellectual-deceit and sophisticated, manipulative, hypocritical, institutionalized racism will be reflected (as it always is, but especially this time of year) via many major publications, and within classrooms throughout the U.S. of A.

For example, even before the first day of February, an article appeared in the only daily, local, news publication, in which the Editorial Board waxes eloquently about “why we still need Black History Month.” ( http://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/opinion/2017/01/30/lesson-understanding/97249772/ )

Not only is the article shallow (to say the least) relative to historical content and significance, but it also clearly attempts to guide readers in the direction of accepting narrow, symbolic, celebration — rather than demanding (after all this time) widespread, fundamental, substantive change now (as opposed to the bye-and-bye).

With regard to lack of depth concerning historical content and significance — just to be clear (for example) — how is it that an eight-paragraph editorial discusses the evolution of Negro History Week — without even mentioning the ‘Father of Black Education’?

Yet, the article references (by name) the U.S. President who issued a message of observance in 1976 (ten years before actual legislation was passed).

This is comparable to discussing the U.S. Civil War (without mentioning Abraham Lincoln), but referencing, for example, Frederick Douglass (by name).

Can you imagine such a thing? Of course not. Why am I mentioning this? Well, because it represents a clear example of how complex, individual, and institutional racism are completely intertwined, and how the two continue to function.

As it relates to attempts to guide readers in the direction of accepting symbolic acknowledgement and celebration, as opposed to demanding (after all this time) substantive change — the article suggests many are concerned that “facts about African Americans in U.S. history will be lost without Black History Month.” WHAT??? Why is it that we don’t worry about the need to establish a white history month — in order to prevent the loss of “facts about [white] Americans in U.S. history?” This is not a rhetorical question, and the clear answer is vitally important, i.e., because whites make certain that facts about them — about their achievements, history, and culture are embedded throughout K-12 public and private school curricula — period.

So if, as stated in the editorial — there are “lessons to be learned from our past. Lessons that can help us understand one another and perhaps bring us closer together” — then how do we explain that white people’s achievements, histories, and cultures are exalted and glorified, if not deified — throughout U.S., K-12 curricula — while everyone else’s, i.e., all other so-called “Americans'” achievements, contributions, histories, and cultures are downplayed, distorted, omitted, and otherwise given short shrift?

Again, this is NOT a rhetorical question. The answer is crystal-clear, i.e., education, especially, but not exclusively, public education, along with mainstream, mass media remain, as they always have been, two of the most entrenched and effective institutions within U.S. society — relative to propping up, rationalizing, and systematically helping to perpetuate the tripartite beast and illness of individual, institutional, and structural racism — period.

So, sure — “this month, classrooms across the country will share lessons that spotlight well-known African-American men and women,” but who will be “spotlighted” for the other eight months? Once again — not a rhetorical question. We know the answer, and we know why.

Indeed, the more things change — the more they seem to remain the same.

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