There is a particularly awkward feeling that seems to linger around February. As a Black person, I cannot speak for all Black people, but I have always felt dissatisfied with Black History Month. On the surface, the month is a well-intentioned celebration of Black excellence, but I think the problem lies in the official relegation of my history to just 28 days. This is not a takedown of Black history itself but rather the idea that restricts Black history to a single month. However, Black history wasn't always a month.
Black History Month began in 1926 when historian Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of African American Life and History first dubbed it Negro History Week, coinciding with Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass's birthdays. The week evolved into a month when student groups on college campuses petitioned for an extension during the civil rights movement. Black History Month was necessary when public schools didn't teach Black history at all, but now it's time for Black people to graduate from the shortest month of the year to the entire calendar, just like white people.
When March arrives, there is a scary possibility that students might leave with the conclusion that Black people didn't contribute much to American history. Black history is American history; Black Americans are Americans. This academic apartheid of our history creates a warped view of highly Black-influenced historical events. For instance, if students are taught for 11 months that Thomas Jefferson was a brilliant man, they might neglect to consider his Monticello slave plantation or his mistress, Sally Hemings. Another example is the American Civil War. According to The Pew Research Center, 48% of Americans believe that the war was about states' rights; however, there was only one freedom Southern slaveholders cared about: the right to own Black people. Slavery was undoubtedly the root cause of the Civil War, and to say otherwise would be parroting racist Lost Cause mythology.
Not only does the exclusion of Black history whitewash American history, but it creates a strange atmosphere around February for teachers who must now haphazardly cater to Black students. Teachers talk about the same historical Black faces: Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver. There is scant mention of Fred Hampton, Stokely Carmichael, James Baldwin, Angela Davis, Marcus Garvey, Nat Turner and many other controversial figures with black skin. Teachers should teach the whole story, not just the good parts.
Even those mentioned, like King, are only discussed in a pacified tone; King was not all Kumbaya. His 1963 "I Have A Dream" speech was noteworthy; however, he was assassinated in 1968, which means that there are five years of his activism omitted from the history books. There is little recognition of King's Poor People's Campaign or the work he did to aid striking Memphis sanitation workers, which was the reason for his murder in Memphis at the Lorraine Motel. King condemned the U.S. bombings in Vietnam and once said, "Call it democracy, or call it democratic socialism, but there must be a better distribution of wealth within this country for all God's children." According to a 1968 Harris Poll, 75% of the country had an unfavorable opinion about King. Most white people then thought King was a radical communist, which makes his history taught today in schools completely sanitized of the facts.
In corporate America, February is the time to shamelessly pander to Black consumers through the ubiquitous commodification of Black culture. We all remember the infamous Pepsi advertisement when Kendall Jenner handed a police officer a Pepsi can and ended racism. To Jenner's credit, the advertisement aired in April 2017, not February; however, Black History Month's presence elevates the ascendance of "woke" corporate brands. Corporations have continuously proven that they aren't interested in promoting equality, instead offering empty celebratory platitudes designed to co-opt the month to increase profits. It's lip-service when companies claim to be inclusive yet donate large sums of money to the GOP; I'm looking at you McDonalds, Walmart, Wendy's, Coca-Cola and Papa John's.
Segregating Black history inadvertently separates Black people from American history. It implicitly instills in our students that Black people are not legitimate Americans and their history does not deserve to be studied year-round. However, this separation of Black history begins to deconstruct when classrooms encounter inseparable historical figures in U.S. history, like Barack Obama. Will he be confined to February because he is Black? Or will he be taught all year because he was an American president? The latter is the correct choice, but it's only a matter of time until Obama bobbleheads start to appear on Amazon this month.