What’s the Point of Black History Month?

I was passed an article late this week called, “Why I Loathe Black History Month.” The author of the article’s main argument is that Black folks themselves have made Black History Month meaningless. That got me thinking…

How do you feel about Black History Month? Do we even need it?

To be clear, I like Black History Month. I think that it’s a good idea to dedicate time to honoring specific things like Black History. I even spoke at a Black History Month Program earlier this week. Going further, I think Valentine’s Day is a good idea (when not commercially exploited). I think Mother’s Day is a great idea. I like birthdays as well.

With all that said, I think that she is partly right and partly wrong. She is right in saying that the way that Black History Month is often talked about and celebrated is wrong. In my opinion, we should focus less on recycling the same trivia questions (who really invented this or that) and more on how people today fit into our illustrious history in ways that they may not have been aware of. For example, I would love to see more Black History Month celebrations in which people today could talk about their accomplishments, using themselves as present-day examples of history for their audiences. These people could serve as the models for the “specific agendas” to address modern-day racial issues that the author calls for, and could have more impact with certain audiences than an elder talking about seemingly distant events from yesteryear.

The author is wrong, however, in condemning the Month due to the what she sees as it’s careless execution in recent history. Why doesn’t she take ownership of what she sees as a bastardization of what should be “more or less a combined State of the Union address and battle plan…”? This attitude of giving up on something powerful is exactly the attitude that the authors and forebears she mentions did not have when facing the challenges of their day. By taking this stance, she is taking “the easy way out” the same way that the people she criticizes are. I hate when people take the position that people should abandon something that they claim to believe has value.

We absolutely need Black History Month as a way to infuse Black consciousness into today’s discourse. We need it to serve as a springboard for ways to make it part of the permanent discussion year round. Finally, we need less people complaining about that not happening and more people working to make that happen.

One Love. One II.

Categories:
Black History Month
Black Issues

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About Garlin Gilchrist II

I'm from Detroit. I created Detroit Diaspora and am a National Campaign Director at MoveOn.org. I currently live in Washington, DC with my beautiful wife Ellen. After graduating with degrees in Computer Engineering and Computer Science from the University of Michigan, I became a Software Engineer at Microsoft. By day, I helped build SharePoint into the fastest growth product in the company's history. On my personal time, I sought out opportunities to connect my technical skills with community building efforts across the country. This led to my co-founding The SuperSpade: Black Thought at the Highest Level, a leading Black political blog. I served as Social Media Manager for the 2008 Obama campaign in Washington, and then became Director of New Media at the Center for Community Change. Today I work at the crossroads of traditional political organizing and online activism. I speak before diverse audiences on empowerment in revolutionary new organizing spaces, increasing civic engagement & participation though emerging technologies and protecting civil rights in the age of the Internet.

2 responses to “What’s the Point of Black History Month?”

  1. Ellen says :

    So how do we move from the superficial to the genuine?

  2. Garlin II says :

    Ellen,

    I’m assuming that you mean moving from superficial celebrations to genuine, meaningful commemorations of Black History.

    I believe that we can start to make this move by focusing less on the history of 80 years ago and more on history from 8 months ago. There was Black History made in 2006 (e.g. Deval Patrick being elected the first Black Governor of Massachusetts, Keith Ellison being the first [Black] Muslim elected to Congress, etc.), so let’s talk about that. This could lead to more passionate presenters (perhaps due to their own self-indulgence) and more participative audiences because the presenters are talking about history that has happened recently and not in the distant past.

    As a lover of history, it pains me to say this. However, it pains me more to see Black History Month be attacked as irrelevant without solutions being presented.

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