The destruction of black history
By Matthew Fraser, Opinions Editor
I, like many other millennials, am a former Facebook opinion warrior. I recall what seems like an endless array of posted articles, shared videos, and joined groups just to type angrily about the world and the events in it. It was not long before I unearthed opinion warriors of the opposite tribe.
Soon, we traded antagonistic posts and paragraphs, day in and day out, for what amounted to be no one’s enjoyment. I remember clearly the thread of posts that led to the comment I’m turning over today: “Aside from peanut butter, what has a black man ever invented?”
To this day the sneer in that comment still burns me; first, it isn’t true—second, the cocksure announcement that the greatest negro creation was a sandwich spread still gets under my skin, snaps at my ego, and forces me to wonder… what good has black history month really brought us?
Carter G. Woodson fought long and hard for black achievement to be recognized in North American history. He fought for the efforts, contributions, and talents of countless African Americans to be brought to the light of classrooms and the to the glory of children’s minds. He fought to instill pride in a race subsumed by the hatreds of a culture that claims to have adopted them. And, what have we done with the spoils of his fight for Black History Month? What has become of the victory he strived for and the legacy he’s worked to illuminate?
Black History Month has been limited to the criminally sanitized retelling of Martin Luther King Jr.’s life, a truncated version of Rosa Parks, a stunted retelling of Harriet Tubman’s efforts, and the inclusion of peanut butter’s birth. Absent from Black History Month is the story of Toussaint Louverture’s successful uprising in the French slave colony of Haiti: the only successful slave rebellion in recorded Western history. Denied are the legacies of Patricia Bath, the pioneer of laser eye surgery—and Vivien Thomas, the former head instructor at Johns Hopkins University and cardiac surgery innovator.
Relegated to a place of disdain are any and every historic black leader which are at all too critical or unsympathetic to the white ruling class of their time. It is clear, then, that the shifting of black history from its quiet place in the closet to its short 28 days in the sunshine is meant to placate and beguile the African diaspora into a pride big enough to feel like part of the dominant culture, but not big enough to see how little that cultures serves them.
Granted movies like the Hidden Figures have moved towards disabusing the contributions, history, and hard work of black people who may not be able to speak for themselves now… but a handful of Hollywood blockbusters and 28 days filled with half-hearted retellings of an oppressor-approved black history has not addressed the ignorance that scars too many minds today.
Thusly, I vote to end the practice. Not because the goal was accomplished, but instead, because the tool no longer fits the problem. We cannot relegate President Barack Obama solely to Black History Month—nor can we pretend that the global influence of Jazz, Rock, and Rap can be shoehorned into a fifteen-minute explanation two days before Valentine’s. We certainly can’t facilitate the critical examination of both the black and white historical figures who played major roles in the battle for equality into the few short days before spring.
Instead, it should be incorporated into regular school curriculum and addressed in its honest daily relevance. The problem is no longer to force dominant white culture to accept black history, but instead, to allow black culture and history to live independently and in full color—separate from the shackles of acceptable white interpretation.
It’s true, not all black history will pass the politically correct acceptability test, but it’s high time that we subject it to that test… and destroy that test if it serves only to limit one’s knowledge of self. As Carter G. Woodson once said: “Those who have no record of what their forebears have accomplished lose the inspiration which comes from the teaching of biography and history.”