Luther College Chips

Black History Month: Strategic Marginalization in Disguise

Makeda Barkley, Managing Editor

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Every year, February marks the month during which we recognize African-American authors, scientists, activists, artists, and other public figures. We go to lectures, concerts, and celebrations of black culture and societal contribution. However, we fail to recognize that our entire country was built by the ancestors of black Americans and their unpaid, forced labor. Our national economy and infrastructure emerged from the unpaid labor of slaves and much of our country continues to function on the oppression of black Americans from which we white Americans benefit. Who are we to enforce white history as AMERICAN history? So many of our national achievements and even a huge portion of our national identity relies on the legacy of black Americans, and yet we give them one month during which we “celebrate” their legacy and expect to be patted on the back for our generosity. No, we as Americans regardless of race should have an extreme opposition to the idea of black history month and not because of who it celebrates but how it celebrates them. Not only do we only give them a single month during which to recognize their enormous contributions to our country, but we also chose the shortest month of the year. Rather than celebrating and talking about black history for just 28 days, why don’t we increase the coverage of black American history in our school curricula? How about ending police violence against unarmed black men? Why not celebrate and empower black Americans every day of the year? Maybe we could try to take off our white privilege blinders and act with compassion and vulnerability?

Black History Month is a scapegoat to avoid giving credit where credit is due. It is a proudly proclaimed and successful move to relegate black Americans’ importance to a short four weeks. Every year, as we continue to perpetuate this “pat on the back” for white Americans, we simultaneously continue the strategically smother a large and important percentage of our population and then congratulate ourselves for “empowering” them. As a white American, I too am implicated in this marginalization masquerading as a check mark on the progressive agenda.

I don’t have the answer to this problem, nor do I claim to fully understand the complexities and culturally entrenched prejudices that continue to permeate our country (and the world). I do, however, have a suggestion for white Americans moving forward: how about we get off our self-righteous liberal horse with our “Black History Month” and celebrate black Americans every day. Better yet, let’s get up and take action. Change our school curricula, re-draw the school district lines to even the racial divide in schools, spend money on the schools that lack funding, educate ourselves, cultivate compassion, and get up and do something. Perhaps I am naive, maybe just severely cynical. However, I truly believe that there is something wrong with setting aside one month for the designated recognition of such an important part of our society, while white Americans get the other eleven months to do with what they please. Things won’t get better for marginalized members of our society if we continue to ignore things as obviously problematic as Black History Month and other cleverly disguised oppressive devices.

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