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Why White History Month Does’t Make Sense

Why White History Month Does’t Make Sense

As Black History Month comes to a close, I want to address a sentiment that is echoed around the nation every February, without fail:”Why is there no White History Month?”

The Twitter-dome hashtags it, children repeat it, and grown adults honestly wonder when their heritage will be up for celebration. “If I say I’m proud to be white, I’m a racist,” says a blonde man while rolling his eyes. And there is truth to this, but that might be because “white” isn’t a culture, as much as a social identifier.

When it comes to celebrating culture, Americans, both black and white, do it with aplomb. I’ve heard plenty of proud Irish-Americans boast of their heritage without reproach, plenty of Southerners who celebrate traditional foods and social graces, and don’t even get me started on Italian-American pride. “I’m a good old fashioned American mutt,” one woman offers, meanwhile nobody bats an eye. Lord knows had we not destroyed the cultural roots of so many black Americans, it’s likely we’d see a similar variation of banter on the subject as well.

But where’s the White History Month? Okay, let’s start with the basics: plenty of “history months” already exist to celebrate primarily white cultures. March is Irish-American History Month; April is Confederate History Month; May is Jewish-American History Month; and October is both Italian History Month and Polish-American History Month. So in all reality, there are quite a few history months that fall under the umbrella term of “white.”

However, this reaction also serves to highlight how out of touch many of us are with the spectrum of black history. These days, while we learn far more about leaders like Fredrick Douglass and those involved in the civil rights movement, there is still a heavy leaning on Euro-centric models in science, literature and history. We all read Shakespeare but why not August Wilson? We learn about the Ottoman Empire and the rise and fall of the Nazis, but who here knows about the Belgian concentration camps in the Congo or the history of the Asante Kingdom in West Africa? We learn about Einstein, but why not David Blackwell who worked right alongside him? There is far more to black American history than slavery and civil rights, and failing to illuminate this teaches students of all colors that black achievements are not worth noting.

In Toronto, an experiment with Africentric Alternative School was introduced to help mend high dropout rates among black Canadians and increase test scores. While some called this an “experiment in segregation,” others pointed out that Chinese schools, Jewish Schools, Islamic Schools, French Schools and Portuguese Schools had all existed in Canada for some time, with little uproar from local communities.

So how did these Africentric schools do? Well, after three years, the test results came in. Not only had scores in reading, writing and math improved, but they outranked all provincial schools with scores 10-20 percent above the local average. Such facts and figures help cement the link between historical pride and academic success.

Some might wonder if blending Africentric studies with current curriculums might negate the need for black history month. While there is a need to invoke more black American history into current curriculums, removing Black History Month speaks less to our current inclusion, and far more to our desire to erase national histories that make us, well, uncomfortable

Black history month is more than just a time when we study Harriet Tubman, the Underground Railway, the Tuskegee Pilots, the 54th Civil War regiment, and the Atlantic Slave Trade. It is when we, as a nation, take culpability for the inequities laid upon black Americans. Not just from 400 years ago, not from 200 years ago, but for those very much alive today that suffered segregation.

Black American lives have been informed by such inequalities, and they deserve to have this history honored, rather than erased. And this doesn’t mean all white people should feel bad. Personally feeling bad about what happened is fine, but actually contributes nothing. However, simply recognizing that history is different for us all helps us move forward with a clear picture of where we have been. And next month, when we celebrate the contributions of Irish-Americans and women (because it’s also Women’s History Month), let’s again remember to learn about their hardships without defensive self promotion at the forefront of our minds.

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Photo Credit: Thinkstock

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196 comments

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7:03PM PDT on May 23, 2014

So you just want "white history month" every month?

6:12PM PDT on May 23, 2014

No history months based on races!
(That might be an idea.)

7:54AM PST on Mar 6, 2014

Interesting,

11:48AM PST on Mar 5, 2014

VV, black people are AMERICANS (not Africans) who have been in AMERICA as long as any white people! Black history is AMERICAN HISTORY, not the study of Africa!!!

11:08AM PST on Mar 5, 2014

Also, I forgot to mention that we should have a Native-American (as in American Indian) Month...after all, that is where we live, and we should know more than we do about the history of our own country. That history didn't start when Columbus came over. People were already living here. I went to school in the '60's and '70's, and we didn't learn the first thing about how poorly Native-Americans were treated by the white man once he came over. I have no idea what is taught in the schools now, since I don't have children.

11:02AM PST on Mar 5, 2014

I'm torn on this one. I think it's great there is a Black History Month, but we're talking about Africa, mainly, so it could be called African History Month (although I think we're specifically talking about the accomplishments of African-Americans). Hispanic Heritage Month isn't really one particular month...rather it's 15 September to 15 October, which seems odd...like we can't give them a single month, like, say, September. The other history months I'm not even familiar with, so it doesn't seem like they advertise them well enough. Again, since we're really celebrating the history of African-Americans, we could have a European-American month, where we go over each country, and the accomplishments of people of that heritage. As DNA is now telling us the countries we originally came from, African-Americans, as well, can find out which country in Africa they originated from, and those specific African countries can be talked about, also, so that we know more about the individual countries in Africa, rather than just thinking of it in terms of one large country, or as just a continent. The majority of my DNA is from the Iberian Peninsula, and I'm amazed at how many people do not know what or where that is, and even if I mention Portuguese/Portugal, I still get people who can't say where Portugal is located, or who assume that Portuguese people speak Spanish (rather than Portuguese). Obviously there's a lot to learn about other countries, and people who originated from th

5:37PM PST on Mar 4, 2014

White history has never made much sense to me...except as it relates to Attila the Hun.....

4:17PM PST on Mar 4, 2014

What about a Native American History 6 months.....?

4:11PM PST on Mar 4, 2014

It is good for Blacks to have the Black History Month because in the past all we knew about were the accomplishments of White people only. When I was in elementary school I never knew that Black people (we were colored then, and then we became Negro's. We have truly evolved) did anything. The books did not tell of what we did in history, it was only about White people and we accepted it. Needless to say that when I DID start studying I was truly amazed that we did anything, and that is so sad to say I know. So it is not a bad thing to have Black History month because it DOES educate the younger black children about our heritage, and probably some of the older Black adults as well.

12:26PM PST on Mar 4, 2014

You don't think there are any black jews, black muslims, black french, black irish, black native american indians, black confederates (yes some fought for the south) black union, or blacks passing as white, or blacks acting white, .look at the crowds honoring Martin Luther King Holiday, you will see just or more whites celebrating.

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Julie M. Rodriguez Julie M. Rodriguez is an arts, green living, and political writer based in San Mateo, CA. Her work... more
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