Why do we only celebrate Black history for one month?

Since 1976, every U.S. president has officially designated the month of February as Black History Month. Other countries around the world, including Canada and the United Kingdom, also devote a month to celebrating black history.  While this, like many diversity initiatives, is often well-intentioned, it has opportunities for improvement.

Separate Histories

By keeping Black history separate, we are implying that Black history is different from White majority history.  Most of the focus of learning about Black history is key leaders that led desegregation efforts, abolishing slavery, or leading peaceful social justice for positive change.  Close your eyes and think about the top five black history leaders.  MLK, Rosa Parks, Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass?  The challenge with these leading characters is there are so many more leaders throughout history that truly drove revolution.  By focusing primarily on those that play by societal rules, it undermines the efforts of others more liberal or fighting for more radical wanting even more positive change.  Even Martin Luther King knew this when he fought for the Civil Rights Movement but did not demand reparations which he knew was necessary to close the wealth gap. It’s no surprise today, that the wealth gap for Black Americans at 8.7% of what an average white family has.  Systemic barriers have not been addressed like housing access and redlining, gerrymandering, voting rights, and incarceration.   

Why don’t we celebrate White history?  White history is every day.  Every textbook, historical document, and the focus of our entire education system is the history of White European descendants.  History books have been written by white males to maintain white supremacy and patriarchy. That is why one month of Black history is not enough. 

Little Known Facts

In PBS’ article “Ten Little Known Black History Facts,” the author explores how key leaders like Rosa Parks had many other strong Black women before her like Claudette Colvin and how the Quakers were the first to fight for the abolition of slavery back in 1688.  Why are these stories consciously left out of our history?  Because they challenge the narrative of white male supremacy.  

The challenge with focusing only on key leaders like Rosa Parks and MLK is that it sends a clear signal to other people to be patient, wait your turn, and good things will come.  That’s simply not true.  It takes a community of people to organize for positive social change.  It takes more than just one person to speak up.  By waiting our turn and being complicit with the systems that hold us back, we will never advance social change.

We have to ask the question, why are these hidden stories not shared more publicly? What does the majority group gain by suppressing the other stories and focusing only the ones that make us feel good?

For example, George Washington’s teeth were not made of wood.  We’re told the story countless times growing up in the American school system.   What we don’t learn is that the teeth are actually made of slaves’ teeth.  How is this fact hidden helping support the systems that keep Black people down and White people up?

It’s time to tell the real history and schools.  Educate people what’s a more holistic view of the world.  We can’t solve a problem we’re not raised to believe exists. 

Ideas to Celebrate

If you still want to celebrate Black History Month, do it well beyond February.  Having a consistent, and tension education program at your organization is what’s necessary to truly drive the inclusion of Black people and people of color.  If your organization has only a few people of color in leadership, don’t put the burden of educating the majority group on them.  While their story of success is likely one we can all learn from, it only reinforces the narrative you just have to try hard to make it.  Our history is much richer than the MLK speech and the Rosa Parks story.  Dig deeper into everyday actions that Black people and their allies have taken to advance social change.  Accept the reality that racism still exists and that the systems of inequality are shaped by our collective actions. It’s no longer okay to just be “not racist” but to be an antiracist.  Antiracists call out racist behavior, they educate themselves, and advocate for racial equality beyond February. 

If you liked this post, check out my Next Pivot Point podcast.  We have over 100 interviews with diversity, equity, and inclusion leaders all over the world.  Be an ally and leave a review on Spotify – it helps other allies find it.

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