February is here and so is Black History Month – a time for special events, shows and other festivities. However, amid all the celebrations are the perspectives that people (blacks and others alike) have for the validity of such commemorations.
Black History Month was a result of a decision by one person, made decades ago in 1926. Carter G. Woodson, who is known as the “Father of Black History,” realized during his lifetime that African-American history was missing from the educational curriculum of students.
To initiate a change, he wrote numerous books on the positive contributions of blacks to the development of America. He also published many magazine articles analyzing the contributions and role of African-Americans. He then designated the second week of February as “Negro History Week,” reflecting the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln (Feb. 12, 1809) and Frederick Douglass (Feb. 14, 1817) – two men who positively impacted the black population.
It was in 1976 that this one week was officially changed to Black History Month by the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History and now marks a month-long celebration of African-American history. This was an effort that Woodson wanted to be temporary as he wished that a time would come when black history would be seen as an essential component of American history.
Every February, the current and past achievements of blacks are honored. Celebrations and parades take place in most cities to promote black history and culture. Museums, libraries and art galleries conduct special presentations and showcases in honor of the achievements and contributions of blacks.
This race-specific commemoration, however, is multi-faceted.
While acknowledging the importance of Black History Month until now, some think it is “politically correct” at the same time.
“I don’t see the use of it at all, honestly,” said Evita Zuniga-Antwi, an academic adviser for the departments of Pan-African Studies and sociology. “This month is more to educate people who are not aware of the events in history. I don’t believe it should be celebrated in one month. The government chose to do so. But some people celebrate it around the year; it is part of their culture.”
A single month to remember black history may cause others to forget the themes of it for the remainder of the year. Psychology major Priyanka Sachinvala said she thinks that in February the negative spirit about black people subsides as the focus is more on the “good things” they have done. However, she agrees to the point that all the hype created around campuses, in the media and various other public places subside as soon as the month ends and there is reemergence of the racial profiling practices.
“Throughout the year, there should be festivals and shows,” Sachinvala suggested. “Different people can go at different times instead of one month when you are being bombarded with media glitz and everything else.”
At a time when people in this multiracial nation are talking about achieving equality, Black History Month seems to segregate black culture from others. According to students, it separates the black community and black history from the American history when both are integrally connected.
“We are fighting for this equality thing, and then we have a whole month to ourselves,” said Eboni Blanche, a freshman at CSUN and a student employee at the Pan-African Studies office.
A business/finance major and Blanche’s coworker, Lee Edward Ligons, sees the educational value attached to the Black History Month. He said he believes, however, that there is conflict in having the black population isolated for a single month.
Adding to his coworker’s comments, Ligons said, “There is nothing like white month or Hispanic month. The proportion that we are singled out for as blacks is unnecessary.”
Blanche, Ligons, Sachinvala and Zuniga-Antwi all have one thing in common: They see the educational purposes of the month and appreciate it for that reason.
“From the classes I have taken at CSUN, we only learned about slavery in terms of black history,” Sachinvala said. “We don’t really learn about their whole culture. Not to really dismiss the problems faced by blacks, but we also need to focus on African-American achievements.”
During this month, all departments plan events and people can be seen coming together, Zuniga-Antwi said. She said it is all for educational use and its purpose is to inform and not segregate.
While claiming that the unity among black people and the consciousness of belonging to one community should come up during Black History Month, Ligons also said that this month is important because of its aim to impart the knowledge.
“It is important for young black kids to get a foundation of their history,” he said.
This is what Black History Month provides.
Woodson intended to see widespread inclusion of African-American history in the education system of the United States. While it has been achieved (to a point) by the inclusion of courses such as Pan-African Studies and African-American history in many universities, there is still a need to encompass the significance of black culture.
“We should read more about black authors (in schools) and appreciate their knowledge and their contributions to the society,” Sachinvala said. “Maybe students should (tell) their professors that they want to learn more about African-American culture.”
Black History Month might be spreading the word about the accomplishments and roles of the black leaders; however, it is only one month.
According to Sachinvala, awareness should be created by including it as a part of educational curriculum in schools.