I’ve had many conversations about this over the years. And have gotten many questions: why have Black History Month? Shouldn’t we celebrate every day? Black history is everyone’s history, so why reduce it to 28 days? I’ve thought long and hard about all of these questions. And I think they’re all valid. But the more I've looked into this topic, the more I’ve realized why this particular month holds such significance. Black History Month doesn’t mean that celebrating blackness is restricted to four weeks. We can do that every day. But there are a few ways in which this month is special. Here are 5 reasons why Black History Month is important to me:
1) I never want to stop recognizing black excellence
It is necessary to give credit to the many leaders who have paved the way. Those who fought endlessly, endured physical and emotional pain, and even died to make sure that our lives are better than the one's they lived. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t black leaders today who are protesting, standing up, and challenging racist institutions and practices. Not to mention the amount of black excellence that is seen on a regular basis. Whether it's noticed in Black entertainers, musicians, artists, students, parents. We are kicking ass every day.
2) Our history is unique…and ongoing
I’ve heard quite a few people say that Black History Month shouldn’t exist because blackness should be recognized at all times. Though this is true, it’s important to understand that our history is unique. We are undoubtedly one of the most marginalized groups to ever exist. So this being a time to celebrate us even more, is really not a bad thing. To say that Black History Month is not necessary is to assume that racial equality has ever been present.
3) We don’t seem to question other times of celebration or awareness
The fact that it’s called Black History Month doesn’t actually mean we’re only important for this particular amount of time. It means this is a time to promote our culture, our struggles, our successes, and celebrate our blackness even more! Think about things like Diabetes Awareness Month or Mother’s Day. By no means is this suggesting that us diabetics are somehow cured for the other 11 months of the year.
Or that mother’s aren’t awesome every day. Sometimes it’s just nice to put more attention than usual on certain situations, people, or issues.
4) Cultural appropriation is alive and well
One of my favourite quotes from my favourite book Black Cool: One Thousand Streams of Blackness by Rebecca Walker, insists that "you cannot have our cool-ass Black style. You cannot determine its existence. You cannot define it. You cannot be the primary source of the validation of its creation, nor give the expert explanation to penetrate the collective cultural imagination. You can’t have credit for discovering its brilliance, because if you do, it ain’t cool no more, ya dig? White cold examination kills Black cool. So step the fuck back, okay, baby? Black style is ours. It belongs to us.”
Every once in a while we need to remind everyone where exactly these “new trends” came from. Black History Month is a good time to do that.
5) No, there shouldn’t be a White History Month
11th grade history class. My teacher said we would be starting to learn about Martin Luther. My face lit up and I was smiling from ear to ear. I was so excited to finally learn about someone who looks like me. To learn about a part of history that I can relate to. Ahh, Martin Luther King Jr. I couldn’t wait to hear more about him. My teacher pulled up the first slide of the presentation and I saw a white face. I looked around horrified as if he must have made a mistake. “Today we’ll be learning about Martin Luther, the German professor of theology.” My heart sunk.
If you are anything but white, you know that white history is everywhere. On our screens, in our classrooms, and even in our workplaces. Especially for those of us in North America, it seems as if escaping whiteness is nearly impossible.
We are a race drenched in culture, resilience, beauty, pride and excitement. We have always-and will continue to- exude greatness even with all odds against us. We will express our blackness however we individually see fit. We will be worthy of love and respect whether we are surgeons, scientists, or inmates. We will demonstrate love and unity the best way we know how. We will stand up. We will work hard. We will extend thanks and gratitude to our ancestors without failing to recognize the brilliance of those of us that are here now. Black History Month is ours. It belongs to us. And it shouldn't go unnoticed.