- Destiny Attagba
Why Black History Month Should Be Less About a Traumatic History and More About Celebration
Every February, black and non-black Americans alike learn about and “celebrate” the progress and many sacrifices that African Americans have made for the sake of existing in America. I’m sure you have seen an Instagram infographic or two about things like the Black Wall Street Bombing, Bloody Sunday, or the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing.
These events are important to American history and especially important to black history, and people should know about them. My only issue with these infographics and similar media is the fact that their spread only surges in February, the one month that black people are allowed to embrace their culture and history without being deemed annoying (for the most part).
Is the constant acknowledgement of inequality and discrimination against black people really a celebration of black culture? Because it seems to me like a celebration of black trauma and mental unwellness.
The “validity” of this opinion is obviously dependent on what you think should be the focus of blackness in February, but I am a strong believer in finding pride and joy in our never-ending times of hardships. If you take a look at other cultural heritage months, you see acknowledgement of oppression and hardships, but you primarily see appreciation of different aspects of one’s culture.
This may be controversial, but I am simply tired of hearing about Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks every February and only in February. Yes, I appreciate their sacrifices and actions. Yes, I think they are two important people in relation to the civil rights movement, and so I acknowledge how much they mean to black livelihood.
But as they represent progress and sacrifice, they also serve as a reminder of continuity in how African Americans have been treated thus far and how far we need to go as a society. Every February, it's the same formula: first slavery, then “We Shall Overcome,” next, “don’t tell me to sit at the back of the bus,” then, the March on Washington, and last but not least, we jump to seemingly successful stories like Oprah and Barack Obama.
While it is important to acknowledge every one of these times in history, they shouldn’t be exclusively talked about in February, and they should be incorporated into American history. Oppression against black people is fundamental to the successful functioning of this country, thus making it crucial to address when discussing American history.
So, why wait until February to talk about the hardships and struggles of black people when these are sentiments that we continue to go through in the present day? These conversations should be facilitated regularly in order to destigmatize conversations about race and to potentially prevent history from repeating itself. Limiting them to February allows people and institutions to check discussion about “diversity work” off their list of things to do annually.
So you may be asking yourself, what should we be doing differently during Black History Month? Well for starters, we should stop calling it Black History Month. Words are intentional and hold large meaning, and the word “history” largely implies that the focus of the month should be the past with little emphasis on the present or the future.
Although black history is filled with remarkable moments of success, unity, and greatness, it is also marked with trauma, humiliation, and discrimination. The latter category is often what society chooses to focus on in February, which is why we need to slightly move away from focusing on the past.
Additionally, limiting our focus to the past in the first place distracts us from focusing on blackness in modern times. We forget to celebrate the renewed appreciation for things like black hair and black culture that has surged in the present day, and we forget to think to the future about how to continue this trend and preserve our happiness.
Where are the movies and books that celebrate black happiness and stability in February? Where are the commercials that celebrate and promote black businesses? The ad-campaigns that don’t exclusively feature lighter skinned black people with loose hair, but black people of all shades and sizes?
A better fitting name for Black History Month could be Black Cultural Appreciation Month or Black Heritage Month, because the words used in these names invoke feelings of pride and identity. February should be a month of celebration and happiness, while the history aspect of our culture should be something reflected on year round, so that the conversation never ends.