"Why isn't there a white history month?!
That's reverse racism!"
Because we already have white history year (decade, centuries...)!
In the United States, it's white history that is the default, the assumed perspective. It's what's taught in the classrooms, portrayed in the media, and informs policy making. So we don't need a special time to teach it. It is taught ALL the time.
The unfortunate thing about Black History Month is that some people think the history is just for black folk. The truth is, we are all missing large chunks of historical knowledge, which hinders us as we move forward in our relationships today. As I grow in my racial awareness, it is profoundly embarrassing that the names of major figures in history are completely unknown to me. I am ignorant. I find myself having scramble to catch up and make up for lost time--cramming names and events that should have been taught to me years ago. It might not be my fault that my high school let me graduate without this knowledge, but now it's on me to rectify it. I am so far behind in my knowledge of music, literature, science. I need a black history month...I just need to celebrate it year 'round to begin to catch up.
|History textbook cover:|
Columbus, but no Native Americans,
Kitty Hawk, but no Tuskegee Airmen,
the transcontinental railway,
but no Chinese immigrant workgangs.
Just a group of anonymous slaves.
The same principles apply to many aspects of our history: Native American achievements and contributions, the USA's paternalist relationship with the Philippines, Japanese internment camps, on and on (see Howard Zinn and James Loewen for more information). Some of it is mentioned in schools, but too often it's "oh yeah and this happened too."
|This picture was not in my history text book|
By presenting this as a celebration of 'look how far we have come', we fail to focus on the ways in which race still continues to play a pivotal role in who has access to power in this society. White women are still clutching their purses in the presence of black men, we are still largely portrayed as prostitutes and criminals in the media...
Carter G. Woodson initiated Negro History Week in 1926 in February to coincide with the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. The idea was to bring black history to the attention of the broader American public. Then, in 1976 the black history was given an entire month--albeit the shortest month of the year.
Continuing our history lesson, how about some identification tasks:
|Can you name the 14 people pictured here?|
I'll get you started: MLK, Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman...
Name five black figures of
historical significance....not so hard.
Now name ten more...
Do you know who Cathay Williams is? Marian Anderson? Crispus Attucks? Matthew Henson? Ida B. Wells? Richard Wright? Marcus Garvey? Who are some significant white allies during the civil rights movement? These shouldn't be obscure names to you, but too often they are.
Can you name the inventor of the light bulb? no problem. What about the carbon filament essential to it? Or the traffic light? hmmm. Telephone? Easy. The blood bank? Not so much. Eyeglasses? yep. Person to patent laser cataract removal? First brain surgeon to perform a hemispherectomy and the first to successfully separate twins conjoined at the head!?!?! Many of us would have starved as children without peanut butter (I am definitely in that category!), but have no idea who to thank for it.
|Ok Methodist sisters and brothers...|
how about this one?
The thing is, folks, this isn't simply black history, it's women's history, it's LGBT history, it's military history, it's literary history, it's science history, it's religious history. It's American history.
Asian-American, Native American, and Latino-American histories are also constantly marginalized and ignored (and now they're even criminalized). If these narratives were given as much weight as white history in the classroom, they wouldn't need their own time set aside.
If you don't know some of these most famous of examples I cite here (and I really just graze the surface), do yourself a favor and spend the next 30 minutes looking at the links, reading wikepedia, and educating yourself. Thirty minutes is a minuscule amount of time to a devote to a subject so neglected, especially compared to the vast history that we are missing out on--but it's a start. You owe it to yourself.
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