February is Black History Month, a time when we learn about and celebrate the accomplishments of black people whose efforts are virtually ignored by general history throughout the rest of the year.
Every February in recent memory, however, has brought about the same controversy regarding the existence of the celebratory month itself. Many people—often white people—argue that Black History Month unfairly puts black people on a pedestal or it somehow ignores the historical accomplishments of white people. The usual counterargument is that most of history is whitewashed and people of color and their accomplishments are written out of history unless it fits a “white man’s burden” or slavery narrative.
This year, Clueless actress Stacey Dash refueled the controversy with her stance against the month. The actress made an appearance on Fox News and argued that Black History Month—as well as the Black Entertainment Network and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s Image Awards—further fuels segregation in the United States. Because of Dash’s black identity and her affiliation with Fox News, there is a lot of backlash against her comments for being ignorant and offensive.
One response to Dash, however, was inspirational and productive. Because Of Them We Can—a motivational campaign to excite young people about Black History Month—released a video of black children’s reactions to Dash’s call to cancel the month-long holiday.
The children said, “What? Excuse me?” in response to Dash and began to describe why Black History Month is important—for celebrating black people’s excellence and beauty without negativity or stereotyping. They also emphasized how black history is more than just slavery.
Although these are the usual arguments to support the month, seeing black children express enthusiasm about their history illustrates how important Black History Month is for combating the erasure of black historical figures and role models.
In retaliation to Black History Month, some people have suggested that we should create a White History Month—for all of the white people forgotten or overshadowed in February. I think White History Month is a great idea—there are many historical actions of white people that are unknown or not thoroughly taught in schools.
One thing that should be taught during White History Month is the brutal truth about white settlers’ treatment of indigenous peoples in America—such as the genocide of millions of people and their cultures just on our mainland alone. We should teach about the mass extinction of indigenous tribes and cultures in Central and South America, Africa, Asia and Australia by American and European imperialists, which continues to occur today.
While we learn about civil rights activists during Black History Month, we should learn about the local and federal politicians who enforced segregation and discrimination laws around the country during White History Month. Additionally, we should learn about the racist, murderous groups of white supremacists in the U.S. that murdered innocent black people and their families during this era—and to the extent these groups and ideologies survived the time and permeate our current politics and culture.
It is easy to argue that Black History Month divides us when we exercise a colorblind ideology. Not all people in our country are treated equally; we wouldn’t need Black History Month if black history, art and literature were regularly taught as an important cultural aspect of America. Unfortunately that is not the case in most public or even private school systems—and to deny Americans knowledge of black achievements and contributions further divides us all and erases people of color from our nation’s history.