Students at Mercer University in Georgia are a bit angry over this flier that appeared at their campus. A quote from it:
“Since there is too much white history to squeeze into one month, we will settle for two.”
This question is one I’ve seen a lot lately: Why is there a Black History Month? I’d like to present 2 tiny answers (of which there are many):
1) History usually gets written by the most powerful. And for a long period of time in the United States, black Americans held no power. They were legally not considered humans. This meant that they could be sold away from their children (who weren’t theirs, legally, but their owners), raped without impunity, weren’t allowed to legally marry (and if they did have a long-term relationship, could be sold away from each other on the whim of their owners), and killed. In an attempt to redress this lack of documenting black history for centuries, more effort is made presently to ‘catch up’ documenting black history in the same way that we’ve always documented the history of those who were powerful. It has been done lately for Women’s history, Hispanic-American history, and LGBT history for the same reasons.
2) The quote above says it very succinctly: there is too much white history. However, this isn’t because white Americans have done or accomplished more (as I believe the above flier implies). It is because white-American accomplishments have been recorded more. No one wants to believe that they have been given an unfair advantage; we would like to believe we have accomplished everything in our lives due to our own merit and because of our own hard work. However, this is never the case – every person, due to the variety of their background, has a different experience than the next person. I am advantaged because I was born in Canada in the 1980s vs. in Afghanistan under the Taliban. I am advantaged because I live in Quebec where post-secondary education is much cheaper than in the United States allowing me to pursue two degrees while facing little debt. I have received things on merit and because of my hard work, but there’s no mistaking it – I’ve been advantaged. What seems worse to me, is to delude myself into thinking I haven’t been. I know it sounds weird, but hearing about your history is an advantage. It allows you to know your heroes, to know the contribution of your culture, and to know that you are powerful. Those whose cultures are powerful have been able to hear their histories for years; Black History Month (and Canada’s Women’s History Month in October and the U.S. LGBT History Month, also in October) is an attempt to allow the same for those cultures which haven’t had the same advantage. It’s not a question of Black History Month providing black Americans with an ‘extra month’ of history that no one else gets. It’s an attempt to bring the discussion, presentation, and documentation of black-American history up to the same level as other histories.