Cameron Clarke, Staff Writer
Carter G. Woodson founded the celebration of African-American history and culture that would come to be known as Black History Month 90 years ago. The month embedded in culture remains one of the largest and oldest expressions of unapologetic “blackness” in this nation’s history.
In the intervening decades, the practice grew from a week – spanning the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, focused on the teaching of Black history in public schools on the East Coast. Later, it became an international observance of the contributions of the African diaspora.
Though the practice has been subjected to criticism from both conservative and liberal groups in recent years, alternately, it has been decried as capitulation to “race-baiting” activists and as consent to the relegation of Black history to a single month.
Perhaps now is as good to discuss the necessity of any observance dedicated to the recognition of a people whose stories have traditionally gone untold in a political period dominated by figures who rail against human dignity, justice and life itself.
American history is rooted in, defined by and the result of Black history. From the scholars who shaped its founding documents, to the slaves who built its temples, to the revolutionaries who included themselves in its definition of humanity, Black voices and Black hands have been molding this nation – and every other nation – since its inception.
These stories, though instrumental in shaping the course of American history, were left out of America’s classrooms and communities. This, on the face of it, was the purpose of Black History Month.
What the voices on the right, and the liberal left, tend to miss is this: Black History Month isn’t just about Black history. What is arguably more important than telling stories about Black history, is hearing those stories from Black voices.
By allowing Black historians, authors, scholars or students the opportunity to shape the discussion, we brush off the dust of White American interpretation that seems to have permeated everything these days.
Rare is the school that omits Martin Luther King or Harriet Tubman from its history curriculum. Rarer still, is the school that allows these figures to speak, unfiltered and unabridged, about their lives, choices and the events that shaped them.
This omission, this flattening of Black history, is the true sin. By casting Martin King as “a man with a dream,” instead of the polarizing insurgent he was considered in his own time, we rob him of agency and of passion.
We dehumanize him. We reduce him to yet another cutout to be manipulated to disingenuous ends.
Black History Month is an affirmation of “Blackness.” While Black Lives Matter rejects the notion that Black lives can be silenced without a response, Black History Month rejects the notion that Black history can be demeaned without recompense.
In celebrating, this February, and every month afterwards, you assert your ability to tell your own story, define your own existence and declare your humanity. Black History Month is one of the oldest declarations that Black lives do matter.