Friday, March 22, 2013

Black History Month

Black History Month was first legally acknowledged in the United States in the 1970s and is celebrated in March each year. It is also celebrated in the UK in October. I went to an all girls private school in London which was almost entirely white. This, it would seem, would be the opportune environment to implicate Black History Month to teach sheltered white students about Afro-Caribbean culture. Instead my seven years at secondary school were defined by learning mainly about the history of white men, a great tragedy in an all girls environment. My sister’s school, on the other hand, was a state school and was a much more multicultural environment. In her school they celebrated black history month every October and it provided her with an awareness of a culture other than her own.
The existence of Black History Month still causes debate, particularly in the United States. In recent months I have notice blogs that have been created to humorously comment on the opposition to ‘months’ which celebrate minorities. These posts are common on popular websites such as Buzzfeed ( and whilst they are entertaining, they’re also incredibly frustrating. No amount of shouting “every month is white history month!” is enough to vent my annoyance over this matter. While there is an obvious amount of stupidity in these comments as they’re taken exclusively from social media resources, they provide a worrying insight into the popular opinions surrounding Black History Month.
Morgan Freeman famously condemned celebrating African American history as a separate event several years ago. However his argument is posed from a different perspective. In an interview for 60 Minutes in 2005, Freeman question why "you're going to relegate my history to a month." He went on to state that since there was no “white history month” there should be no Black History Month as it perpetuated divisions and indicated that African Americans were still being singled out as alien. He said the way to stop racism was to “stop talking about it”. The interviewer is noticeably uncomfortable with the accusatory tone Freeman takes and immediately tries to separate himself from ‘white history’ by stating that he is Jewish.
Freeman’s comments have been widely debated and criticised. His idealistic approach to history and race indicates that the United States is in a ‘post-racial society.’ I believe that race is something that should be celebrated and differences in culture need to be taught in schools like mine to educate young people who remain very much in a segregated school system. Black History Month is also a useful tool for instilling a sense of identity and pride in African American students. I agree with Freeman’s comments that black history defines American history, but I find his reasoning to be somewhat optimistic.
I know we talked about everyone’s individual experiences of Black History Month in their schools in class but I would like to bring the question up again. How was it addressed in your school? Do you think Freeman’s comments are damaging?


  1. Scarlet, it's quite amazing how many people turn the rhetoric of anti-racism to complain about Black History Month. Simply incredible how self-righteous comments that begin with, "I'm not racist, but..." can attempt to be. It's another example of color-blind rhetoric flattening out differences of power to the end of maintaining the white supremacist status quo. I find that, while I can understand Freeman's problems with Black History Month, I very much feel that without it, Black History wouldn't magically become embedded in our history, but rather become more neglected than it already is.

    What is equally important to remember in our discussion of Black History Month, and something we do quite well in this class, is to think outside the scope of the canon of traditional black leaders. For example, I learned about Douglass, Washington, DuBois, and MLK a fair bit in middle school and high school, but never delved into many black feminist thinkers or more thinkers outside the pacifist Christian tradition (i.e. Malcolm X). Even within the tradition of Black History Month, there is still discursive work to be done. Thanks for your post.

  2. Thank you for your post, Scarlet. I am so sorry to hear about your lack of exposure to strong female and non-white leaders at your secondary school. I have to be honest, my high school was actually very similar. I attended a co-ed (non-religious) boarding school in the midwest, and while the faculty was representative of various backgrounds, nearly all higher level positions — our deans, headmaster, department chairs, etc. — were held by white males.

    My school was founded in 1826 — never has there been a headmistress or a person of color in the position of head of school. As a result of this, the canon of literature we were taught was largely comprised of Dead White Male Authors. Not until one female teacher in the English department spoke up did we read books by Black authors, Jewish authors, female authors, and living authors. Given this environment, Black History Month was never really celebrated the way it had been at my previous school.

    The role of Black Americans in history and literature was stressed throughout certain courses, but there was no all-school convocation or discussion of Black History Month. In this way, I can sort of see what Morgan Freeman was talking about, in that the most dynamic classes included and embraced Black history in a year-long discussion of events and themes. But, I do think the blessing of Black History Month is that is provides us with a moment of intention, during which time we can really reflect and discuss not only Black history, but the ways in which that history is a living, impactful thing today. Further, the ridiculous arguments showcased by Buzzfeed are more angering and ignorant than anything — very disappointing.

    Like Chelsea, I read Frederick Douglass (both in middle school and in high school), DuBois, Washington, and MLK. I did also take a class that focused specifically on the Cold War, the Civil Rights movement, and Vietnam, so we talked about the evolution of the Black Panther Party and Malcolm X a good deal (but this class was an elective, and didn't really have much of a bearing on a school-wide discussion of non-pacifist movements).


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