Black figures should be recognized all year long

Illustration by Liv Weatherford

Kofi Mframa, Opinions Editor

Every February, like clockwork, my teachers would pull out the same lessons about the same four or five Black historical figures. Every year, we were taught the same trite lessons on Martin Luther King Jr. having a dream, Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat and Harriet Tubman’s journey to freedom. 

Don’t get me wrong, it’s important that we learn these things, these figures are integral parts of American history. It’s the nature in which we learned about them that never sat right with me. 

While white historical figures are given intellectual country throughout the year, Black figures just aren’t afforded that same depth. Instead, they are relegated to the same 28 days every year. Black figures don’t deserve to only be discussed during Black History Month — their accomplishments should be woven into the expansive fabric of American history year-round. 

Black History Month began as “Negro History Week” in 1926 when American historian and “father of Black history” Carter G. Woodson wanted to “designate a time to promote and educate people about Black history and culture,” according to NPR

The weeklong celebration, originally taking place in the second week of February, became a month-long celebration when Pres. Gerald Ford officially recognized Black History Month in 1976, according to NPR. 

The original intention was never to place limits on discussions of Black history, but to act as a conduit to deepen our understanding of Black contributions to our cultural zeitgeist. 

However, it seems as though the original meaning of the celebration has gotten lost.

Instead of using this time to celebrate the Black accomplishments we’ve already spent the year acknowledging, we regurgitate the same talking points over and over again. 

This ultimately does a disservice not only to the people we aim to celebrate, but to those of us eager to learn about underrepresented figures. The very limited amount of people we talk about only becomes more limited as we deny exploring the breadth of their accomplishments and contributions.

We’re all very familiar with King’s dreams of racial equality, but little is taught about his anti-capitalist teachings and advocacy for class consciousness and equity. We know all about Parks’ refusal to give up her seat, but we are never taught that she was one of many Black women who stood their ground. 

It’s certainly not lost on me that more radical thinkers like bell hooks, Fred Hampton and Angela Davis are excluded from mainstream discussion during Black History Month. Frankly, the very limited amount of people and ideologies we highlight fit neatly into white sensibilities of racial equality.

They all tend to be very middle-of-the-road. Progressive enough to confirm what we already know is true — racism is bad, equality is good — but not too progressive as to offer any grandiose criticisms of white supremacy and white hegemony. This only proves that white people and their comfort are at the helm of most discussions of Black history which only limits these discussions more.  

By expanding our recognition and celebration of Black history, we’ll have the opportunity to uplift previously underappreciated voices and expose new audiences to philosophies that can help us progress as a community in our ongoing fight for liberation.

Black history is American history, and it should be treated as such. 

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