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Commentary: Don't end Black History Month just because some people abuse it


An emphasis on black history is not divisive

Demonstrators and marchers carry American flags on the Selma to Montgomery march held in support of voter rights, Alabama, late March, 1965. (Photo by Robert Abbott Sengstacke/Getty Images)

February is Black History Month, a celebration of the African American men and women both famous and obscure who contributed to this great nation. With Black History Month comes the debate about whether the month-long holiday should exist at all.

BlazeTV's own Jon Miller weighed in on the topic this week, stating his case for ending Black History Month, which he calls "one of the most useless observances in the country after National Cookie Day."

Miller writes:

"After I suggested this on social media, my inbox instantly flooded with messages from confused and outraged conservatives. To those people, I would ask: What is the point of Black History Month? It's to allow white liberals to feel "woke" for a month while doing absolutely nothing whatsoever to educate themselves about history and the real story of African-Americans in this country. They get to add BHM-themed filters to their Snapchat photos while spending time no differently than they do any other month of the year. Nike, of course, gets to release its "black people" shoe collection, because when has Nike ever turned down using racial strife to turn a profit?"

Miller raises a valid point about how Black History Month has been trivialized and commercialized by some who have no sincere interest in learning about or promoting black history. Still, to call the observance "useless" implies that nobody can get value from Black History Month just because some people abuse it.

I believe that is the wrong way to view it. The value of a holiday or observance should not be determined by those who don't take it seriously.

For example, Christmas has also been trivialized and commercialized in America. But, to those of us who recognize Christmas as a time to reflect on the birth of Jesus Christ and what that means to us, the holiday is immensely valuable. We don't want to abolish Christmas because it has been abused. Instead, we are motivated to fight for its true meaning and observance.

What's the point of Black History Month?

Miller asks, "What is the point of Black History Month?" But then he incorrectly identifies the present-day abuses of the celebration as the point of its existence. The point of Black History Month is far more significant than whatever so-called "woke" white liberals or shoe companies choose to do with it.

Black History Month as we know it today began in the early 20th century with Carter G. Woodson, who founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History in 1915. The ASNLH created Negro History Week in 1926. It occurred during the second week of February to coincide with the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln.

The purpose was to "both create and popularize knowledge about the black past." Woodson believed the black community "should focus on the countless black men and women who had contributed to the advance of human civilization."

Negro History Week gained momentum across the country over the years, and by the 1960s it had evolved to a month-long celebration in some places. President Gerald Ford officially recognized Black History Month in 1976.

"The Negro History movement was an intellectual insurgency that was part of every larger effort to transform race relations," wrote Howard University history professor Daryl Michael Scott.

That's the point. Black History Month does not exist to divide the nation. It does not exist in opposition to white people. It exists to educate. Let us never abandon an educational effort on account of those who don't wish to be educated. We should continue to serve those who have a respect and a desire to see black history preserved and taught.

Miller writes about the pitting of black history versus white history. Black History Month doesn't pit races against one another. It simply points to the history, as it happened.

Unfortunately, much of black American history is a story of black people being oppressed by white people. To acknowledge and remember that is not an attempt to punish white people for the sins of the past, rather it is an attempt to promote understanding of those historical injustices and conflicts and their lasting effects, which is necessary to promote healthy race relations in the present and future.

But shouldn't the schools teach it all year?

One of the primary arguments against Black History Month is that, because black history is American history, it should not be limited to one month.

The underlying faulty assumption there is that the existence of Black History Month is the reason black history isn't taught year around in school and emphasized all year in our society. The emphasis on black history won't suddenly expand simply because we stop highlighting the subject in February.

Of course black history is American history. Of course it should be taught all year in the course of normal American history curriculum. But in many schools, it's not. If it was, the widespread ignorance of black history that Miller decries in his column would not be an issue.

The truth is, even in 2019, Black History Month is still the only time some people are exposed to black history. And while that isn't ideal, it's better than the alternative of those people never being exposed to a focused study of African Americans who helped shape the nation as it exists today.

How should we move forward?

It's true that even Carter G. Woodson lived with a hope that Black History Month would evolve into Black History Year. He hoped for an era where such distinctions and divisions of history were not necessary. And there is legitimate difference of opinion about whether such distinctions are still necessary today.

To those who want to end Black History Month, I would remind them that the observance and celebration of black history every February is a voluntary exercise. It would be quite easy for those opposed to the idea to ignore it, as all of us ignore holidays which don't apply to us, rather than insisting that no one celebrate.

But to those people, regardless of race, who enjoy the annual 28 or 29 days of celebration of a rich history, who take special pride in the accomplishments and contributions of black Americans, I say as Woodson once did: "We are going back to that beautiful history and it is going to inspire us to greater achievements."

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