February is already here (2013, where are you going?), which means it's the official start of African American History Month. The United States government has made February the month to honor and learn about the contributions and history of black Americans. And yet, in recent years, people have debated whether this event is still necessary -- or whether it's even effective.
This year, we watched the nation's first black president take his second oath of office -- after a campaign that was fraught with even more racial contention than in 2008. Meanwhile, people are flocking to the box office to watch Quentin Tarantino rewrite slave history in Django Unchained. How do these things bode for black history in America?
Sojourner Truth, Image Credit: National Portrait Gallery/wikimedia commons
Who Is Black History Month Really For? Last year, our editors took part in a race roundtable to talk about what the real goal of this event is -- to build up the confidence of young African Americans or to provide a feel-good experience to promote diversity to the wider population. Says Contributing Editor Gena Haskett:
"So no, I'm that that keen on making BHM palatable to white folks. Not at all.I am keen on the full dimension of our shared history to be told. A history that is greater than slavery. Understanding slavery is important but it is not the totality of our experiences.
Black History Month: Why I Identify As Black BlogHer's Maria Niles writes about what it's like to be an "Undercover Black Woman" -- although she may have light skin and European features, she refuses to "pass" as white:
My great-great-great grandmother, Ellen Craft, was the child of a white slave owner an a slave, as was her mother. Therefore, she was 3/4 "white" and 1/4 "black." However, by the laws of the United States at the time she was legally defined as "black." Those laws no longer exist and so I can now choose my race, my identity. Although I clearly have European ancestors, I identify solely and completely as black.
Contributing Editor Laina Dawes asserts that the forced celebrations of African history in North America (the event takes place in Canada, too) ignore the real issues that face blacks today:
"We are so wrapped up in creating this veil of appropriateness and black political correctness (or as I call it: the "what are white people going to think?" attitude). These are chances to have dynamic, open and frank discussions about our communities and what we can do to make them better for the next generation. We can talk about the social issues that plague our communities, put more emphasis on Canadian black history and even tackle more taboo subjects that "we" don’t really like to discuss (GBLT issues, alternative culture, music and education)."
Why Black History Month Still Matters On the other hand, Professor Kim Pearson says its vital to our increasingly diverse society to embrace the history of all Americans, through commemorations such as Black History Month.
They can promote informed conversation about "race" because the historical formation of the concept of "blackness" is linked to the process by which "whiteness" was constructed. As Judy Helfand explains: "Whiteness is defined by determining who is not white; it is defined as the superior opposite of non-white."
What do you want to hear about as we head into Black History Month this year? Leave a comment, drop a link, or write a member post here at BlogHer.
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