FEBRUARY, THE SHORTEST and coldest month of the year, is home to Winterlude, Valentine’s Day, and—most importantly—Black History Month (BHM). Started by American Carter Woodsen in 1926, BHM was then known as Negro Week during the second week of February.
Many years later we find ourselves celebrating significant people and events pertaining to the black race here in Canada, the U.S., and the U.K. for the whole month of February. While black history is important for all races to learn, I wonder if we even need the month-long event.
I’m not the first to criticize BHM’s existence. Morgan Freeman, critically acclaimed American actor, famously said during an interview with 60 Minutes that he didn’t want a Black History Month because black history is American history. While it’s strange that for once I find myself siding with a patron of Hollyweird, Freeman’s statement has merit.
Why segregate a people’s entire history to a month? By celebrating BHM for 28 days a year, we are unintentionally celebrating white history in the remaining 11 months.
While BHM’s attempt to educate the public about black histories is commendable and desperately needed in today’s pop culture obsessed society, it would serve us better to instead alter the way we teach history in elementary and secondary schools. If we taught history in a way that was more inclusive toward all races and histories, we wouldn’t need a Black History Month—or any other month for that matter.
When you ask the average 17-year-old, Canadian student about black history in general, they can rattle off all about the Emancipation Proclamation or the civil rights movement in the U.S., but draw blanks when it comes to Canadian history. Sadly, American black heroes are studied more widely here in Canada, and while people may attribute that to the United States being a cultural behemoth. Still, it’s important that we learn about our own history in schools.
When we segregate black history to one month we give ourselves the illusion of being accepting and inclusive when, in reality, we’re not. In elementary schools, children don’t study black history in conjunction with other history classes—I learned about the black loyalists on my own time, not in Grade 8 history class.
Take the University of Ottawa for example. While we have Aboriginal, Arabic, Asian, Jewish Canadian, and Italian studies, one distinct community of people is missing. That’s right, here at the U of O we can’t take African studies, culture, and diaspora like our Carleton rivals—even if we wanted to. Instead of protesting increasing tuition fees this year, maybe we should’ve rallied to adding more black history content to our courses and an African studies program in our school.
As Freeman stated, “Black history is American history.” Canadian black history is Canadian history. We should be studying it all year long instead of giving a whole race of people—my race, my people—just one month. It’s damn near insulting. If we stop distinguishing between race and see people as people, maybe one day racism can be eradicated.