Does Black History Month Still Matter?

woodson.jpgMSN has an article today drudging up the annual debate on the relevance of Black History month. (see Americans Divided Over Black History Month).  The article cites an MSN-Zogby poll of 10,000 Americans where surveyed about their feelings on the observance.

The survey found that 43% of Americans felt that Black History Month is a token gesture and 39 percent said that it is an opportunity to raise awareness of African-American history and accomplishments.  64% of African-Americans polled said the observance is a good way to raise awareness of African-American history and accomplishments.

I think this is a poorly worded survey, but the results are not shocking.  Anything, and I mean ANYTHING, that suggests African-American's be singled out is shunned in this country.  The day that all black folks become fully assimilated into "American" culture and history is the day that history can be more easily rewritten and absolve America from the shame of slavery and Jim Crow semi-slavery.

And why would anyone claim that black history month is a token gesture?  To claim that this is a token gesture is to credit the dominant culture with creating the celebration.  The article fairly points out that Black History Month sprang from Negro History Week initiated by Dr. Carter G. Woodson.  It's an observance initially created by black people and for black people.  The fact that it became nationally observed means very little in this post-Reagan world.

But just like Juneteenth and Kwanzaa, African-American created observances are often portrayed as irrelevant, unnecessary, or made-up celebrations.  And just like with those holidays, African-American intellectuals and scholars are beginning to side with the majority in calling for an end to these "set-aside' observances. 

In the same way, the majority media has began to tell us when we should and should not be offended by racist comments.  Their own opinions are not good enough; they want to tell us what OUR opinions should be.

Daryl Michael Scott, the chairman of history at Howard University, has an insightful quote in the article. "There are a lot of people who think you get Black History Month because of the black power movement" of the '60s and '70s, says Scott. But it was the evolution of Negro History Week that became, by presidential proclamation, Black History Month in 1976. 

If Bill Cosby and Morgan Freeman and 43% of American's want to take Black History Month off the books, so be it.  It doesn't diminish the fact that we must preserve and observe our own history in our own way. 

But in an America that is increasingly wary of anything celebrating our differences (why do you guys need TV One and all these Black Newspapers?) I fear abandoning Black History Month would lead to less focus on our history, not the year round celebration that some scholars hope for.

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