When I woke up on the morning of February 1, I did what I always do—checked Twitter. I relished that immediate moment of elation at seeing #BlackHistoryMonth trending, and I scrolled through the hashtag, reveling in the celebration of Black excellence. However, as I thought more about it—about the ways that Black History Month is celebrated—I became bitter and anger.
While I saw many Black people tweeting incredibly important and enthusiastic things (see here, here, here, and here) about the celebration and recognition of Black history, I also saw several news outlets and white people declaring the importance of Black History Month. While, of course, I was happy at seeing more widespread discussion about Black history and people, it felt shallow and inauthentic. For a lot of these people and media outlets, the beginning of Black History Month becomes the only time they will acknowledge the importance of Black people in American history. While they’ll talk about Black “firsts” or the importance of Frederick Douglass or Martin Luther King Jr. or Barack Obama, they don’t ever acknowledge the struggles in Black communities across America.
Historically, Black History Month began in 1926 when Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH) began “Negro History Week” to promote the teaching and celebration of Black history in mainstream American history. This celebration grew over several decades until 1976, when President Gerald Ford officially decreed Black History Month a national holiday. Negro History Week and its successor, Black History Month, not only sought to include Black history and American history, but also to recognize Black people as a vital and visible part of the United States.
White and mainstream America wants to participate in Black History Month to assuage white guilt or join the trend or promote the myth of a “post-racial” America, but when it comes to recognizing Black people beyond Black History Month, there is a resounding silence.