FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Twenty Eight Days of Inspiration

by Faisal Kutty

“I don’t want a black history month. Black history is American history,” Morgan Freeman says.

Over the next few weeks, you will see no shortage of functions organized by historical societies, libraries, and schools. You may even catch the corporate giants sponsoring short vignettes on black history, or perhaps a rerun of “Amistad,” “Roots” or “Malcolm X.”

Welcome to Black History Month.

The celebration has come a long way since 1926, when Harvard-educated Carter G. Woodson founded Negro History Week. Woodson, popularly known as “the father of black history,” chose the second week in February to correspond with Abraham Lincoln’s approval of America’s 13th Amendment to its Constitution, abolishing slavery, and also with the birth of prominent black advocate Frederick Douglass.

Woodson’s goal was not only to educate his community about its rich heritage, but also to make American society aware of black contributions. In 1976, during the U.S. bicentennial, the commemoration week was expanded in the U.S. to National Black History Month.

The celebrations are supposed to make a difference in the perceptions and attitudes of blacks and whites. Yet, since its inception, there has been a raging debate within and outside the community about whether the month has had a positive or negative effect.

Many people look forward to this month, during which a marginalized people’s history is given prominence in the mainstream. There is a newfound appetite for anything about black history during these magical 28 days. Others question its relevance and consequences. As Freeman points out, is black history not part of American or world history? Why should it be condensed and highlighted only during this month?

Indeed, some with conspiracy theory leanings even wonder aloud why the shortest month of the year was selected.

During our school years, we spend months, perhaps years, studying history. Yet, how much importance is given to the history of blacks? On far too many school curricula, outside of this month, black history shows up once just before the U.S. Civil War, disappears, then reappears with the civil rights movement.

Even a cursory glance at the tremendous contributions of the black community is beyond the scope of this article. Suffice it to note that the accomplishments and contributions by this community have benefited all of us, not just members of one group. Minorities and, indeed, all of us, owe a great deal of gratitude for the great civil rights strides advanced by the blood and sweat of blacks.

It’s not hard to understand the pride felt in having one’s history and contributions remembered and honored. Yet, others question whether in our increasingly multiracial and multiethnic societies today, does it make sense to commemorate the history of only one particular people in a discreet and isolated fashion?

Should the history of all peoples not be celebrated and taught all year? And, by limiting the remembrance, study and celebration to one month, are we not undermining and devaluing it?

Interestingly, Black History Month comes and goes like a holiday. As one commentator noted, it’s as if the sun rises on black history every Feb. 1 and sets on black history every Feb. 28.

This not only diminishes the contribution of blacks, but also minimizes their very prominent role in shaping society, as we know it today, particularly in America.

Moreover, dissecting and isolating black history from American, Canadian or world history gives others the chance to label it as “revisionist history.” It leaves the impression that the Eurocentric history, taught for the bulk of the year, is the “real” history, with black history merely being worthy of mention as an aside.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s good there is a month dedicated to acknowledge the achievements and contributions of blacks. Some time to remember is better than none at all.

As Woodson wrote: “The achievements of the Negro properly set forth will crown him as a factor in early human progress and a maker of modern civilization.”

But this is just a first step. The whiff of patronization and complacency is too strong during this month. Some blacks sit back with a sense of pride, while the rest of us feel good for allowing “their” history to be told and recognized.

The celebrations have been going on more than eight decades, yet the cycle of racism has been remarkably consistent over that period. As Tyrone Williams notes, “Whatever ameliorating effects Black History Month was supposed to have had, the fact remains that it has failed to have any lasting impact on race relations in the United States.”

Agree or disagree with Williams and Morgan, suffice it to state that until the contributions of minority groups are the focal points of history books, rather than footnotes, the need for Black History Month, and other such remembrances, will remain necessary.

Faisal Kutty, a lawyer, is an assistant professor at Valparaiso University School of Law in Indiana and an adjunct professor at Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter@FaisalKutty.

More articles by:

Faisal Kutty, is an associate professor of law and director of the International LL.M. Program at Valparaiso University Law School and an adjunct professor, Osgoode Hall Law School, York University. He is also a co-founder of KSM Law for which he serves as counsel. He blogs at the Huffington Post and his academic articles are archived at SSRN.

November 20, 2017
T.J. Coles
Doomsday Scenarios: the UK’s Hair-Raising Admissions About the Prospect of Nuclear War and Accident
Peter Linebaugh
On the 800th Anniversary of the Charter of the Forest
Patrick Bond
Zimbabwe Witnessing an Elite Transition as Economic Meltdown Looms
Sheldon Richman
Assertions, Facts and CNN
Ben Debney
Plebiscites: Why Stop at One?
LV Filson
Yemen’s Collective Starvation: Where Money Can’t Buy Food, Water or Medicine
Thomas Knapp
Impeachment Theater, 2017 Edition
Binoy Kampmark
Trump in Asia
Curtis FJ Doebbler
COP23: Truth Without Consequences?
Louisa Willcox
Obesity in Bears: Vital and Beautiful
Deborah James
E-Commerce and the WTO
Ann Garrison
Burundi Defies the Imperial Criminal Court: an Interview with John Philpot
Robert Koehler
Trapped in ‘a Man’s World’
Stephen Cooper
Wiping the Stain of Capital Punishment Clean
Weekend Edition
November 17, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Thank an Anti-War Veteran
Andrew Levine
What’s Wrong With Bible Thumpers Nowadays?
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
The CIA’s House of Horrors: the Abominable Dr. Gottlieb
Wendy Wolfson – Ken Levy
Why We Need to Take Animal Cruelty Much More Seriously
Mike Whitney
Brennan and Clapper: Elder Statesmen or Serial Fabricators?
David Rosen
Of Sex Abusers and Sex Offenders
Ryan LaMothe
A Christian Nation?
Dave Lindorff
Trump’s Finger on the Button: Why No President Should Have the Authority to Launch Nuclear Weapons
W. T. Whitney
A Bizarre US Pretext for Military Intrusion in South America
Deepak Tripathi
Sex, Lies and Incompetence: Britain’s Ruling Establishment in Crisis 
Howard Lisnoff
Who You’re Likely to Meet (and Not Meet) on a College Campus Today
Roy Morrison
Trump’s Excellent Asian Adventure
John W. Whitehead
Financial Tyranny
Ted Rall
How Society Makes Victimhood a No-Win Proposition
Jim Goodman
Stop Pretending the Estate Tax has Anything to do With Family Farmers
Thomas Klikauer
The Populism of Germany’s New Nazis
Murray Dobbin
Is Trudeau Ready for a Middle East war?
Jeiddy Martínez Armas
Firearm Democracy
Jill Richardson
Washington’s War on Poor Grad Students
Ralph Nader
The Rule of Power Over the Rule of Law
Justin O'Hagan
Capitalism Equals Peace?
Matthew Stevenson
Into Africa: From the Red Sea to Nairobi
Geoff Dutton
The Company We Sadly Keep
Evan Jones
The Censorship of Jacques Sapir, French Dissident
Linn Washington Jr.
Meek Moment Triggers Demands for Justice Reform
Gerry Brown
TPP, Indo Pacific, QUAD: What’s Next to Contain China’s Rise?
Robert Fisk
The Exile of Saad Hariri
Romana Rubeo - Ramzy Baroud
Anti-BDS Laws and Pro-Israeli Parliament: Zionist Hasbara is Winning in Italy
Robert J. Burrowes
Why are Police in the USA so Terrified?
Chuck Collins
Stop Talking About ‘Winners and Losers’ From Corporate Tax Cuts
Ron Jacobs
Private Property Does Not Equal Freedom
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail