As a white woman, my ancestors' history has never been reduced to a single month. The history textbooks used in school constantly detailed the accomplishments of white men since the beginning of time, chronicling technological advancements, cultural revolutions, wars, and victories. I never felt as though I did not know where I came from, or that my peoples' past was somehow left out of discussion. Non-white people, on the other hand, had to fight to have their histories heard even a little bit. Perhaps here and there in school we learned about the accomplishments of Black individuals, such as Martin Luther King Jr. or Harriet Tubman, but the lessons were over-simplified and not indicative of the power that these people had to have had in order to compete in an assumed white-dominating society. I always wondered how the students of color in my classes felt when they heard stories of slavery and oppression over and over again, waiting to possibly hear about the positive influences individuals had on society as well. But somehow teachers never got around to teaching much of anything else, and their histories were silenced.
It is easy enough to look at my situation and say, "Well, you're acknowledging your privilege, and that seems good enough. February can be treated just like any other month, if I want it to." However, in doing so, I am perpetuating this idea that my history is more important than other histories, that just because I am white means I do not have to celebrate other histories too. I would be wrong to say that Black History Month has nothing to do with me because without People of Color, there are so many things that I would be living without today.
Especially since the end of high school, I have become more aware of the inequities in our society and more prone to seek out modes of action from a praxis/social justice mindset. So, in the past few years, I have really tried to pay more attention to and actively seek out stories from the past that are different from the ones I had heard about in school. From individuals involved in changing the field of education to authors, artists, and other individuals in between, studying People of Color during Black History Month has been incredibly important to me, and my eyes have been opened to a world of understanding that was white-washed (pun not intended) previously in academic settings. From listening to Otis Redding to reading Maya Angelou, or from hearing stories about everyone from Sojourner Truth to Hank Aaron, I am slowly filling in the gaps of my education and rounding out the negatives with so many of the positives given to us from People of Color.
In taking a class focused on education in Africa (particularly Rwanda) and hearing all of the political discourse surrounding countries like Libya and Somalia, Black History Month could not have come at a more crucial time. And, the fact that people question if President Trump knows who Frederick Douglass was and condemn Vice President Pence over praising Abraham Lincoln for his efforts in Black history presents a stronger tension across the nation in regards to what we value. Now more than ever, I believe people need to start acknowledging the efforts and accomplishments of all people, no matter their race or ethnicity, or else the world may never be able to know peace.
A month is not enough to cover the thousands of years of history of People of Color that have been left out of our history textbooks, media, and culture. A month will not repair the damages of not knowing who invented the stoplight, pacemaker, or refrigerator. A month is will not be long enough to listen to Marvin Gaye, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Lauryn Hill, or Solange or to read pieces by Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, or Angela Davis.
But a month does not have to be just one month: it can be the start of a changing mindset, a definitive action taken to ensuring that non-white pasts are brought into your present. I take February to really reflect and assess my privilege, but come June I will still be investigating new sources and learning more about non-white populations. Black History Month is not long enough, as we should be valuing Black history every day. However, by making learning about other races' histories a priority during this month, I know I am on the path to knowing more, doing more, and understanding more, which is a step in the right direction.
I encourage everybody to celebrate in some way this month, regardless of their race, political affiliation, socioeconomic status, or any other facet of identity. We have so much to learn and so far to go, but maybe this can be the start of something amazing.