Growing up we have always learned about many different people in history. It has ranged from learning about who the first president was and the multiple wars that America has been involved in. All of these are important parts of history and should be taught, but there’s so much more that we are missing. When it comes to Black history, we are constantly learning about the same people over and over again. It’s always the same story, nothing new. We hear about Martin Luther King Jr, Rosa Parks, and Malcolm X. These three have done so much for Black history in general, but they are not the only ones who have helped shape us to this day. If we did not have Black History Month or celebrate our culture, there is a good chance people would not know as much as we do today.
Does anyone know where Black History Month originated? For one, I did not know until recently. Black History Month was originally created in 1926 in the United States, when Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History announced the second week of February to be “Negro History Week.” It was chosen because it corresponds with Abraham Lincoln’s and Frederick Douglass’ birthdays. These dates have been celebrated by the Black communities since the late 19th century. Black History week expanded to Black History Month by black leaders of the Black United Students at Kent State University in 1969. The first celebration took place at Kent in February of 1970. The United Kingdom first celebrated it in 1987 and in 2008, the Canadian Senate decided to officially recognized Black History Month. Officially in 1976, the bicentennial of the United States, President Gerald R. Ford expanded Black History Week into a full month. He believed that the country needed the opportunity to honor the often neglected accomplishments of African Americans in every area throughout our history.
Now that you know a little more about why and how Black History Month was created, let’s dive into it a bit more. Although I mentioned how I’m tired of hearing about Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. all the time, it is great to Honor Historic leaders such as them. We should allow us the time to pause and remember their stories, but there is so much about Black History that we as a nation do not know. Did you know that the first person to die in the Boston Massacre was a black American? His name is Crispus Attucks. Chicago’s city founder was also black and his name is Jean Baptiste Point du Sable. I didn’t know any of this information until I did research. I’m not saying someone needs to know every single part of Black history, because clearly I don’t, but there are so many things that education could talk about and they tend to focus on the same few stories.
Recently, black people have been getting a lot of attention. The sad thing is that the media only focuses on the negative aspects of African Americans. Whether it is an athlete getting angry or a video of a fight between black students goes viral, that’s what is seen. We aren’t focusing enough on the successes of black Americans. Still to this day, we are subjected to unfair assumptions and stereotypes from many cultures that are still learning to accept us. For example, after Cam Newton and his team lost the 2016 Super Bowl. He was angry and gave short and rude answers in a press interview. Everyone thought that he was childish, but at one point Peyton Manning was childish too. In 2010, the then-Indianapolis Colts quarterback rushed off the field without shaking hands with his opponents. People believed that it was poor sportsmanship, but they forgave him because they understood that it was hard to lose a Super Bowl. Why wasn’t it the same for Cam Newton? Now, I’m not making this about football, because that’s not my expertise at all; but it does show how the media treats some people differently than others in the same situation.
As I just mentioned, the lack of good representation of black people is a problem. I remember growing up, that I believed black people didn’t do good things in life. At one point, I didn’t want to be black. I wanted to fit in with the other students. On TV shows, I didn’t connect with the characters. If a character had a specific hair problem, I didn’t understand. My hair was a lot different. I was taught to love my race, but in the back of my head I still didn’t understand why I had to be black. I can remember not connecting with family dynamics as well. The only characters on TV I truly connected with was Raven-Symone and Kyla Pratt as Penny Proud from “The Proud Family.” Even Selena Gomez on “Wizards of Waverly Place,” was able to provide representation to see what a Mexican American family was like, even though they were wizards. I started to do more research and found out more about my race. The feeling of wanting to be a different race was slowly declining. Black History Month provides the chance for accomplishments made by the black community to be highlighted and shown off. It matters because when a child or even an adult sees someone just like them, they can connect with them and depending on what they’re doing they may have a bit more confidence to do something even if the odds are against them. Now as an adult, I love being a black female. I have no shame in saying it. It is absolutely fine to love your race, as long as you are not tearing another down to do so.
When it comes to the Black Lives Matter movement (BLM), it has created a light and has showed the way that some, not all, police officers and the judicial government treats people of color. What a lot of people don’t understand is that we are not saying all police officers are bad. I personally know a few police officers and they are some of the sweetest people you could meet. But there is enough to the point where videos have gone viral that show the unfair treatment of blacks. The Black Lives Matter movement calls for black people to be respected and treated fairly. It’s sad that I even have to mention that saying BLM doesn’t mean that other lives do not matter. No one is saying “Oh, only black lives matter. Forget about Asian, Hispanic, and Caucasian people. They aren’t important.” We don’t believe that at all. To be pro-black, does not mean we are anti any other race. Many believe that “All lives matter, but we’re focused on the black ones right now, because it is very apparent that our judicial system doesn’t know that. If you can’t see why we’re exclaiming that Black Lives Matter, you are part of the problem.”- Unknown. The movement has also made it clear that lot of America’s culture has been shaped by black culture in different ways. The problem is that everyone wants to be black, but nobody really wants to be black when issues arise.
When Black History Month rolls around, one of my least favorite questions is “Why isn’t there a white history month?” Do you not understand that a majority of the history we learn is white history? We aren’t trying to take away from your history, we are just trying to add more of our history and make it relevant within American history. It is important to learn. By remembering history, we are able to understand the struggles and challenges that many African Americans overcame in this country. Everyone is allowed to enjoy black history, not just the entertainment side. We are more than just athletes, artist, and actors. We are doctors, scientist, inventors, and most of all we are humans, just like everyone else. To avoid repeating history, we want others to take the time and understand what our race as a whole has gone through. Today we’ve come so far from the 1800s and even from the 1960s, but we still have a long time to go. The good news is that we’re slowly making progress.
I spoke to a few different students at Purdue University as well as students at other schools to see what they had to say about the importance of Black History Month. Jasmin Osman, a sophomore at Purdue, had a lot to say. “One purpose of Black History Month is to recognize black people who have achieved unthinkable things as well as recognize their progress in achievements and culture. It is important to remind people all over the world, not just in America, that white men are not the only people contributing to the future.” She continues to state that, “The past is an important thing to remember because without it, our society does not have the ability to continue to move forward.” Another student stated, “It is important for thirty days or so days that the histories of historically marginalized people are highlighted, particularly in schools. Even though the curriculum is grossly inadequate (How do you compress centuries of history into 28 or 29 days) and oftentimes glossed over and focusing on MLK’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech; only to avoid uncomfortable discourse. It also helps remind minority children that they have a history, one that is every bit as real as the one they learn over the course of thirteen years of public education.”
What can you do to celebrate Black History Month and other heritages? Be more understanding and open when someone wants to talk about race issues and be willing to learn more. Teach different black history subjects in class. Black children need to know that we too have a history and that it shouldn’t be overlooked. We just want you to love our history and culture as well as make it a part of American history as well. If you want to know more about other histories as well you can. Arab-American Month is in April, Asian Pacific American Heritage Month is in May, Hispanic Heritage Month is from September 15th to October 15th and Native American Heritage Month is in November. No matter what race or ethnicity you are, it’s always good to learn about different heritages. We as a nation need to be more supportive and accepting of each other to become the America we are supposed to be.