The Myth of Black History Month
One day, I came home from elementary school excited to tell my parents what I had learned during Black History Month. I proudly recounted the narrative that I had learned: Harriet Tubman freed the slaves, then Rosa Parks sat down on the bus because she was tired, and Martin Luther King Jr. ended racism. My parents stared at me blankly for a moment before my mom was able to find the words to ask, “Didn’t they teach you about anyone else?”
Narrator: They had not taught her about anyone else.
My parents told me that if I came home from school again without being able to them about anyone besides King, Parks, or Tubman, we were going to make a trip to our local library. I loved the library, so this seemed like a win-win situation to me.
Narrator: She did not learn about anyone else.
A little while later, a series of coloring books showed up in the mail, and I spent the next several months coloring my way through Black inventors like Garrett Morgan and C.J. Walker.
Our educational system taught me that an entire people’s historical contributions could be reduced to our interactions with marginalization and oppression. I was under the impression that African Americans could only be part of history if we were abolitionists or civil rights leaders. Yes, we are freedom fighters, but we are also nerds, athletes, creatives, theologians, educators, and so much more that is worthy of recognition.
I recently had a conversation with my parents in which I thanked them for supplementing my education. They were confused since what I called “supplementing my education” they simply called “parenting.” They understood that knowing my history would influence how I interacted with the world. This is the work of pouring into the next generation of people who must learn to flourish in an environment designed to dehumanize them.
I’ve noticed that something interesting happens every February. More teachers than usual start educating their students about Black History. Streaming services suddenly decide to spotlight the Black stories on their platforms. It’s almost as if there is some sort of collective attempt at centering Black voices. It would feel exciting, except that it does nothing except perpetuate a myth about Black History Month.
The myth goes something like this, “Black History Month helps combat racism by recognizing the contributions of African-Americans.” Let’s sit with that sentiment for a moment. Racism denies the dignity of people who bear God’s image. Therefore, requiring a list of achievements to acknowledge someone’s humanity is literally the opposite of combating racism.
Black History Month isn’t a time to try to prove that Black people are worthy of humanity. We don’t need Black History Month. We celebrate black creativity, joy, resilience, and image-bearing because we can.