Is there any point in continuing to dedicate the month of February to celebrating blackness?
In today’s NY Daily News, columnist John McWhorter argues that it’s time to “Say Goodnight To Black History Month” and that it’s a celebration that’s outlived it’s use:
Black History Month is obsolete. Not because it was the wrong thing to do from the outset, but because the mission has been accomplished.
We often hear that America knows nothing of black history, from people who started saying this almost 50 years ago. They were right then. Today, they are not.
Is he right about that? There’s still a lot of folks who remain ignorant about Black history, but to bolster his argument, McWhorter points to some recent accomplishments that illustrate how the public’s consciousness has grown:
In 2001, the organizers — mostly white — of a centennial celebration of the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo highlighted the racially discriminatory side of the original event.
That same year, a traveling museum exhibit of the Henrietta Marie slave ship artifacts broke attendance records in 20 cities.
In 2002, Washington State Rep. Hans Dunshee — a white man — agitated to have Jefferson Davis’ name removed from a Seattle highway and replaced with the name of black Civil War veteran William P. Stewart.
That same year, Underground Railroad buffs in Ohio decried historical distortions in a Cincinnati National Underground Railroad Freedom Center under planning; they were white.
True, these were hardly high-profile events — but their sheer ordinariness is what makes them so important. One could continue year by year, with many more events than two in each one. America acknowledges black history today to an extent that would flabbergast a black activist as recently as 1960.
Ground was just broken on a National Museum of African American History and Culture on the Mall in Washington, D.C. Since 2010, three of the most widely discussed nonfiction books have been Isabel Wilkerson’s chronicle of the Great Migration, “The Warmth of Other Suns”; Rebecca Skloot’s book about the harvesting of a black woman’s cancer cells, “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” and Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow.”
All of this would have seemed like science fiction as recently as when I was in college in the ’80s — as would the regular appearances of movies like “Amistad,” “Glory,” “Buffalo Soldiers” and “The Help,” or August Wilson getting a 100-year cycle of black history plays produced.
Where we probably agree with McWhorter most is in his assessment that Black History should be recognized and celebrated year round and not just in the shortest month of the year:
And it brings us to a complaint increasingly leveled against Black History Month. Why should black history be given just a single month? You don’t have to take it from me — Morgan Freeman agrees. PBS recently aired a documentary by black filmmaker Shukree Hassan Tilghman arguing that black history should be engaged year-round.
So what do you think? Is it time to call it quits on Black History Month? Or is it helpful to have a designated month, at least for the sake of the kids whose teachers might not otherwise take the time to incorporate it into their lesson plans?