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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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8:17PM PST on Nov 4, 2014

Cristina, I am very sorry that you feel so guilty about being white (that fact is obvious from your statments).

Your denial of the injustices perpetrated by the white majority throughout U.S. history and your refusal to recognize the fact that white privilage is a major factor in our society to this day merely highlights your own short-sightedness and bias.

I am sorry that you think taking the time, in a historical environment that is almost totally dominated by white history and that ignores and marginalizes anything that is not white history, to recognize the substantial achievements of minorities is such a threat to you.

The only thing that is being threatened is that "white privilage" that you so vehemently deny even exists.

6:58PM PST on Nov 4, 2014

BTW, how would it look if I brought up what happens in Islamic culture today, and used it to show how terrible islamic or arab culture is?. I somehow suspect that wouldn't seem too right, yet it's OK to do it when it comes to white culture, and with something from the past at that.

6:54PM PST on Nov 4, 2014

White culture is the dominant culture, that doesn't equate every month being "white history month". The idea behind a history month is to celebrate a certain culture or group, often one which has been historically maligned.

White culture is constantly associated with its negatives while its positives are ignored (as being part of white culture). As both your own posts show.

Why even insist for these things as being a white culture thing, cruelty has been a part of HUMAN culture since forever. Slavery, murder, racism, have never been exclusive to white culture.

I don't think anyone has to feel guilty about something they haven't done, so I have a problem with collective blame placing. Which is not to say I have any problem with there being a black history month.

As for so called white privilege, I think what there is simply inaccurate to qualify by race something which is the socio-economical privilege which exists everywhere.
Now, most people with that socio-economic advantage are white, but that doesn't mean all nor even most white people have it.

And then there's the issue of affirmative action.

6:34PM PST on Nov 3, 2014

Oh here are some fine examples of your "white culture" in action.

6:33PM PST on Nov 3, 2014

Sorry Cristina, in America EVERY month is "white history month" (or European American month if you prefer).

How is recognizing the FACT that the white population of this nation has a truly horrid and appalling record of treatment towards black people that includes 400 years of slavery, murder, and systematic racism , which only "officially" ended a few decades ago,and still permeates throughout our society "putting down" white culture"?

The dispicable and inhumane treatment of African-Americans in America is simply a matter of HISTORICAL FACT. If you chose to feel guilty about them, that is your concern (you seem to be compensating for something).

Also, if you think white privilage does not exist TODAY, even as we speak, in the United States, you are woefully ignorant as to reality.

5:10PM PST on Nov 3, 2014

I've got to add this:

“You know I am just amazed the lack of understanding that so many have regarding the historical importance of "white privilege" that exists to this day. For god's sake when I was a little boy black people were BY LAW unable to drink from the same water fountains or eat at the same restaurants that I, as a white child, was able to.”

Sorry Kevin, but that doesn't show how any white privilege exists today. I'm a huge history buff, but let's not confuse history and current events.

Go and talk about white privilege to lower class white people...

4:35PM PST on Nov 3, 2014

BTW, the “history months” that exist to celebrate primarily white cultures still leave most of them out, plus you could say white people in the US have their own culture... maybe a European American month would be appropiate.

4:32PM PST on Nov 3, 2014

"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"

I have to say, that sounds a lot like you do think white people should feel guilty.

White is a culture, and is a raace, like black is. No justification to celebrate one and put down the other.

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.)

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