Happy Black History Month, everyone. As always, awareness and education are critical first steps in combating large-scale issues like racism. A whole month (even if it’s the shortest one) dedicated to Black history is too important to brush past, as there is an obvious need for a diversified history lesson in this country.
In fact, I know people who were taught in their public high school history classes that the Civil War was fought because of states’ rights, specifically not over slavery, that the Confederacy should be celebrated and worse.
This month, we will surely hear names like those of activist Rosa Parks, Underground Railroad conductor Harriet Tubman and “peanut genius” George Washington Carver– great Black Americans who did great things despite the odds. This should be celebrated, most definitely.
But I’m here to tell you there’s a big problem with leaving it at that. However noble their successes, these exceptional individuals are not all there is to Black history.
We must also acknowledge every other Black American who, by simply surviving life in the Americas throughout history, deserves recognition and respect (and reparations). Not just those who managed to be exceptional under exceptionally oppressive circumstances, but those who simply managed.
Black history is rich, and not just for reasons white people so often assume. Centuries of systemic oppression proceeding mass enslavement and a shared diversity in cultural backgrounds tie together a family of people not necessarily defined by the system of white supremacy but by their own survival mechanisms.
As someone who isn’t Black, I’ll stop there on explaining Black American culture. All I’m saying is, Black History isn’t about George Washington Carver (whose name is so, so ironic). It’s about the whole deal, every nook and cranny and good bit and bad bit.
We cannot forget the part white people played in Black history, too, as the group that defined the terms for enslavement and oppression, even benefitting from all of it. We must also acknowledge the wrongdoings of the privileged, the white Americans who stood (and stand) in the way of freedom, safety and dignity for so many.
All of this should be included in our conversations every Black History Month and every history class we ever take.
And yes, Black Americans, like every other minority group, need role models, need to be inspired, need to see themselves in positions of power and success. However, even more than that, we need an in-depth history lesson that doesn’t just idealize individual success stories– the history lesson should include the whole picture.
During Black History Month, while it’s great to uplift the personal successes of Black individuals who defied great odds and made something of themselves, let’s also decide to question and uproot the system of American slavery that they were never equitably freed from.
If we are to ever move past history, we must be taught it in full. Understanding our past is the only way we’ll ever be able to move forward.