Do we need Black History Month?

By Matt Simmons

Every February, I notice the change around the University. During every Black History Month all around campus there is increased recognition of the past contributions of African Americans as well as the state of black America today. In recent years there has been a backlash against Black History Month and other months designated to honor particular sub-groups of our society. The critics of these “sub-group months” doubt whether these months are necessary and some claim that they are harmful.

An argument commonly made is that since we do not designate a month to celebrate white history then it is unfair and discriminatory to designate months for blacks and other minorities. This argument ignores the reality of the world we live in. The reason why we do not designate a month for white history is because we celebrate white history year round. During October, we celebrate Columbus Day, in February we celebrate great white presidents, and on the fourth of July most Americans celebrate the day that white Americans earned their independence. To say that we do not celebrate white history is incorrect.

On a related note, some claim that celebrating Black History Month reflects a common societal tendency to give special treatment and recognition to minorities. Some people even lump Black History Month together with affirmative action or with the special treatment given to minority students here by the Office of Minority Student Affairs. The fact is that there should be a concentrated effort to promote black history. How many people of you can remember learning about Nat Turner and what black people who experienced slavery actually felt about it? How many of you know the reasons why Malcolm X and other black leaders referred to white people as devils? Understanding historical black perspectives could help shed light on current racial attitudes and lead to positive change in society.

Still, just because it is important to learn about black history does not mean that there should be one month designated for it. By designating special months for different subgroups are we not promoting the fragmentation of our society? Instead of separately looking at the contributions of African Americans, Jewish Americans, and Italian Americans, we should highlight the contributions of individuals from particular subgroups within the study of general American history.

The contributions of black people should not only be important during February. Students of the American legal system should recognize the impact of Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas whether it is February or not. Food science majors should recognize the contributions of George Washington Carver year round. Separating black history from the rest of American history trivializes the contributions blacks have made to this country. It is like saying we will not recognize you in real American history but we will give you one month, the shortest month of the year I might add, to honor your accomplishments.

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Finally, I pose the question, is Black History Month really helping Americans understand black history? If white Americans believe that much of black history is irrelevant, then we cannot force them to pay attention to it by creating a special month for it. Seriously, do non-blacks care that the person who invented the traffic light was black? Forcing insignificant facts on people during February does not help Americans appreciate black contributions. It makes a separate month for the study of black history insulting and unnecessary.

The strongest argument supporting Black History Month is that it gives a chance for black youth to recognize the contributions black people have made to this country. While I think it is important to provide black youth with positive black role models, we should not make up a month to recognize every single small contribution that blacks have made to this country. Instead, young African Americans should learn about black history throughout the year while learning about important Americans of all races. If this is not happening in history classes, then it is an injustice to all students.

Matt Simmons is a senior in LAS. His column appears on Fridays. He can be reached at [email protected].