The Village

  • Is Black History Month History?

    Feb 11, 2013. Written by Karen Safo-Barnieh

    If history is defined as the study of past events, does this then mean that every February we are celebrating the buried and expired achievements of the black race?

    The meaning of the word ‘history’ is what i would like us to ponder. Yes, I know that you were expecting your typical blog post of how legendary the pillar heads of Black History Month are, but I think it’s time to question if the study of black history is still as effective as it was when Negro History Week, now Black History Month, was created in 1925 by Mr. Carter G. Woodson.

    With a whole 28 days to celebrate, 29 if it happens to be a leap-year, the standard Black History Month tool kit consists of Mrs. Rosa Parks’ bravery on the bus and Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, and is a simplified snapshot with no real reference to future of the black race. Only the past.

    “The complicity of one month,” Satu Repo states, “is that it allows for the perpetuation of the hegemony that consigns our existence to merely a ‘historical’ period.”

    So I ask again is Black History Month History?

    The dilution of the study of black history to civil rights often overlooks and suppresses the social and economic incentives that were put in place for the future generations of people of color. The suppression of such information limits the capacity of future generations to ‘carry the torch’ so to speak, in delivering justice to people of color.

    Dr. Martin Luther King’s efforts in the “Poor People’s Campaign” for economic justice was disrupted by his assassination. This highlights the selective tool kit in the study of black history. With various information overlooked, the simplification of black history leaves many potential activists unsure of how to ‘carry the torch’ our predecessors left behind.

    The slave trade and the civil rights movement then act as “bed time stories” with many in the current generation seeing our past accomplishments as unmatchable.

    Yes, President Barack Obama and many others represent a progression of people of color in our world but this month is about the activity of all of us. We must work together.  We are on the cusp of Neo imperialism in Africa. The French are in Mali and Niger, occupying their mines, illustrating that the scramble is no longer for people, but now for resources.

    Furthermore by promoting fair-trade of natural resources such as oil, diamonds, iron, uranium, copper, petroleum, coco, we are restricting African farmers from joining the world market and encouraging them to remain in a very niche one. Rather than being able to globalize their business and truly rise above poverty, they are tied to receiving the very slight increase in wages offered.

    Black History Month should highlight the changes and the ‘history’ we can make today to shape tomorrow. It is our duty and responsibility as people of color to continue the legacy of Dr. King, Mrs. Parks, Kwame Nkrumah and so many others.

    A former slave once wrote:

    “Any time while I was a slave, if one minutes freedom had been offered to me, and I had been told I must die at the end of that minute, I would have taken it – just to stand one minute on God’s earth a free woman.” -Elizabeth Freeman

    It’s time that we do not merely live to survive, but to live with purpose. Even with the knowledge that the seeds we sow now will be reaped in future generations. Be active in your community, and let’s make ‘history’ today.