Monday, February 15, 2010

Audacious idea: an overhaul of Black History Month

Audacious Ideas » Audacious idea: an overhaul of Black History Month

Monday, February 15, 2010
Posted by A. Adar Ayira, Project Manager of the More in the Middle Initiative, Associated Black Charities

In 1926, when Carter G. Woodson first advocated for “Black History Week,” not only were the contributions of African descendants ignored, but American history was deliberately whitewashed (pun intended). Those responsible for writing what we now accept as the popular history of this country whitewashed the contributions of people of color, whitewashed the white-supremacist aspect of the country’s foundation and history, and whitewashed the generational impact—economic, legal, political, business—of those decisions.

In the time between 1926 to 2010, much has changed, especially as it relates to the laws and customs that upheld racial oppression. The change is undeniable and should rightfully be celebrated, even as we continue to live with the impact of the legacy of American Apartheid.

So do we still need one month to emphasize and “celebrate” Black History? Here is an alternative: Let’s do an overhaul of what is represented as “American History” so that the history of those of European descent is not over-represented, while the histories of others who make up and contribute to this country are under-represented.

Every citizen should expect a more comprehensive and inclusive American history to be taught in schools each and every month of the year. As a country we should be ready to accept a history that is more truthful in its inclusiveness and in its honest recognition of the country’s deeply flawed character as relates to its citizens of color, without turning away, denying, or minimizing historical racial oppression or its continuing economic, educational, and social impact on Americans of African descent and other people of color.

Finally, I would audaciously propose that we take care to contextualize the history of this country in a way that emphasizes thoughtful and inclusive context over American mythology. Let’s go deeper than the use of constant staples such as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, and others whose lives and stories only skim the surface of a vibrant and robust history and the meaningful contributions of African descendants in America. Let’s stop framing their stories in a way that strips them of their essence and re-packages them in ways that negate the context of the times and the veracity of their causes.

Let’s go deeper than re-working the history of African descendants and other people of color to ensure that they are a “comfortable” fit for a historical context that is viewed from the lens of American mythology (“land of the free, home of the brave,” “all men created equal,” and the like) and from the lenses and perspectives of those who have had and continue to have a clear bias and agenda in promoting and maintaining this mythology.

The fact that there is still a need for Black History Month instead of a wholesale incorporation of it in American History—from the lenses and perspectives of those who generationally experienced the “backside” of the American experience—speaks volumes about who we are as a country; how we (still) feel about the truth of our history; and how far we have, and have not, come.


  1. Anonymous8:41 PM

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  2. I think this is a sound idea. But I am skeptical.

    My rebuttal is basically informed by the fact that BHM is an example of one of the Nguzo Saba (seven principles) of Kwanzaa--a self directed initiative of Black people themselves. While I think we can and must demand a reworking of American history I would keep are own self guided effort in place. Also, conceptually I think there is a bigger issue. Your principle is basically in integration model. If we follow it to its logical conclusion then one might ask for example, "why have an HBCU? Lets have a more inclusive mainstream institution?" That is your project might wind up undermining Black institutions. Thus my reply is that we do both. Lets push for a more representative history whilst still celebrating BHM. kzs

    NB: Carter G. Woodson's project was called "Negro History Week" not "Black History Week."

  3. A. Adar Ayira9:20 AM


    Peace, and thank you for your thoughtful comment!

    But . . .an "integration model"?

    Uh . . . no: wrong thought-model and wrong person.

    KZS, "integrating" (since you use the word; smile) the accomplishments and contributions of Afrikan descendants into what is currently taught as "American History" is not about "integration" nor is it about assimilation; it is about truth-telling and myth-dispelling. It is about putting front and center the stories and histories of A People who were and are a critical core of this country but whose stories, contributions, and world views play out in what is currently taught as "American History" as side-bar and auxiliary.

    What I'm talking about as an Audacious Idea is replacing this misinformation that diminishes the roles of everyone not classified as white and recasting what is taught and accepted as historical truths with Our stories, contributions, perspectives, and world views. This should be reflected as "American History", too, and that is Truth, not "integration" or "assimilation".

    And yes, that would replace Black History Month, which started out as "Negro History Week", as you've correctly noted (thank you).

    I do not follow what you are presenting as a logic thought model: that a clear conclusion of teaching truth 12 months a year about the experiences and contributions of Americans of African descent in what is currently taught as "American History" would undermine Black institutions or our teaching our children truths, as the principles of the Nguzo Saba require and inspire.

    Eliminating the need for ONE MONTH of superficial Black History told from the perspective(s) of those trying to keep America "comfortable" with their biased framing of Our Stories by replacing it with TWELVE MONTHS of Black History told from our own perspectives, experiences, and world view (as I expressed in my original Audacious Idea post) seems to me to be more in line with the principles of the Nguzo Saba.

    Because having our truth told as American History doesn't replace or undermine our institutions. It enhances them, makes clear the historical and continuing need for them, and, I believe, educates an America still ignorant of historical truths BECAUSE they've been inculcated with the myths and untruths offered as "American History" that whitewashes and softsells the historical scope and continuing impact of American Apartheid.

    And since we're (respectfully) speaking truth, KZS, WE as A Peaple are doing a very good job of undermining our Black institutions all by ourselves. WE do not support or sustain our institutions, their growth, or their ability to act in ways that support our community. But we sure complain about them a lot and use our complaints as reasons not to support.

    If we did, my Audacious Idea would be reality because we -- as A People living and manifesting the principles of the Nguzo Saba -- would have the clout to make it so.

    Peace and Many Blessings,


  4. Sista Adar, I am not calling you an integrationist. I call your model integrationist because, if I understand you correctly, you want to replace BHM with a more inclusive "American" history. You make no mention of maintaining the BHM institution. So, again, yes we should, we must fight for a more inclusive "American" narrative as you rightly note. But we also need our own autonomous program too. BHM highlights Black/Afrikan history in February, but it need not prevent us from running programs year around. (And obviously Black history programs don't shut down after February.) Likewise, to draw an analogy, celebrating the life of Malcolm X on 19 May does not prevent us from celebrating his life and work the remaining 364 days. one, kzs