The other day, I received an email from a student who was questioning why we have Black History Month every February. Somewhat modified, this was my response:
The reason we have Black History Month is because we don't typically have history taught as it actually occurred. In essence, we have White History Month all year round. What we should be doing is having True History taught all the time, but we're nowhere near this happening at this point since White Supremacy is still the default position in this country. So-called Black History Month is a knee-jerk concession to the fact that we don't intend to change the way we teach history in general because it makes White people look as if they're the only ones important enough to study seriously--when they're not.
Race, as I so often say and write, was socially-constructed about five hundred years ago and there are those who call for brushing it aside as a concept now. Unfortunately, however, despite the category of "race" being a fabrication, rampant racism and, in fact, institutionalized oppression against all people of color and women are still fully functional throughout the society we live in. Because of this, we have no choice but to continue the practice of trying to give Truth a word in edgewise.
Some folks suggest that observing Black History Month keeps us stuck in the past. They apparently imagine that two hundred fifty years of slavery was the only oppression ever perpetrated against African-Americans when that's far from the case. Historical oppression is still taking a toll because it made White society rich at the expense of people of color and that huge foundation creating and bank-rolling the White power structure has yet to be addressed. But even so, statistical data clearly documents that full-tilt discrimination against people of color and most particularly African-Americans is as United Statian as apple pie right now.
Another argument I sometimes hear for doing away with the practice of honoring our African-American heritage as a crucial part of our national history and focusing appropriately on White participation in the oppression of people of color is that Black History Month somehow keeps the problem of race relations in this country all "stirred up" instead of "letting" us all learn to "love" each other (as Christian doctrine teaches).
In reality, Christianity as an organized religion has participated in the process of oppression against people of color since it helped to invent the concept of "race." There are and have always been some Christians who are committed to fighting injustice and oppression, but most church-goers who look like me just talk about love and being "one in Christ." While the family in the pew next to them might be African-Americans, they're basically being given positions as honorary White people for church-going purposes only. Let them wake up on Monday morning with a taste for parity in the job market and watch what happens--and who doesn't want to get involved with "that sort of thing."
White people who only "love" Black people in church need to remember Jesus' admonition that inasmuch as we have done it (or not done it) to the least of these His brothers (and sisters), we have done it to Him. In my opinion, not attacking oppression against the powerless is just exactly the kind of thing Jesus was probably talking about.
Whether White people like it or lump it, get it or don't, people of color are owed a whole lot more by this society than one month of reflection a year. The hard work and creativity of people of color are evidenced everywhere you look in this country and they have at no point been invited to fully participate in the benefits they made possible for White citizens who have, in fact, paid far less dearly for what they have always expected to receive, accumulate, and enjoy. African-Americans are not even allowed full citizenship in their own country. That's apartheid, just like South Africa had.
I'm always fascinated by the way some folks say this nation demonstrates its godlessness by not having prayer in school. I think it demonstrates its godlessness by brutalizing people of color (all over the world) for money right up to the present and pretending it's not happening. Until that's understood, we better keep right on having Black History Month. If knowledge is power, then there's a whole lot of White folks in this country in dire straits because they don't know their asses from a hole in the ground.