Black History Month: Problematic Realities

The Activist Toolkit is already home to a great overview of Black History Month in Canada. You can check out that tool here.

There’s a dedicated and growing chorus of voices, however, to point out the problematic realities of the month. This tool will focus on the challenges of proclaiming February "Black History Month," and examine the inadvertently racist (or perhaps overtly racist) realities of the current month-long campaign.

Relegating black history to one particular month of the year -- and as many point out, it’s the only month with less than 30 days -- doesn’t encourage an inclusive history, focusing on the stories of marginalized groups alongside "traditional" historical recollections. It’s dangerous to compartmentalize all of these experiences and stories by viewing them in isolation: "here is the history of race 1, now race 2."

Instead, the goal should be to understand history with multiple truths, including long-excluded perspectives of minorities. The month doesn’t encourage us to just see an accurate and inclusive history. Instead, it focuses on "black history" as its own subset of a wider truth. By pushing the roots of an entire race off to one side of the traditionally taught "history," it’s suggested that the side story isn’t as valuable or reasonable or accurate as white experiences of the past. Some of these arguments are discussed a little more in depth in this blog post, "I hate Black History Month."

Morgan Freeman has always been vocal about his thoughts on Black History Month. Spoiler alert: he's not a big fan. It’s true, isn’t it, that promoting one 28-day month to acknowledge and advocate for black history leaves the remaining 11 months to celebrate what? White oppression? Ignorance towards black history? A lot of people are standing up to say, guess what? Every day is white history day. Check out this insightful blog post on identity and living as a minority in a white-dominated society.

Many remain staunch advocates of Black History Month. It’s a start, they say, to reversing decades of ignorance and exclusive teachings of history. While this might be true, it seems that much of the "education" during the month verges on tokenism. There is an over-reliance on the same well-known figures, on stereotypical cultural activities and symbols, and, in many cases, almost a furthering of the ignorance surrounding the roots and evolution of black history. Check out this awesome Q&A with Filmmaker Shukree Hassan Tilghman that touches on a lot of these problematic issues during a discussion on his film More Than a Month.

Take Action This Black History Month!

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