Black History Month is getting away with segregation

April 5, 2021

White privilege is the ability to get pulled over by a police officer without fear of unfair treatment or worse. It’s going to any hair salon without worrying if they will know how to do your hair. It’s not having your intellectual capabilities questioned by strangers. White privilege is also having the history of your race fully and fairly represented in history class. Every single month of the year is “white history month,” so why is Black History Month pushed into the singular month of February, ready to be forgotten throughout the next 11 months? February should not be the only time a year we celebrate Black lives and accomplishments. By doing so, we are allowing segregation to continue in the 21st Century. 

Black History Month was originally created by Carter G. Woodson, a historian and son of formerly enslaved people, when he realized the lack of Black presence in American history textbooks. He established the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, which led to the start of Negro History Week in 1926. However, according to historian John Hope Franklin, Woodson never intended for Negro History Week to be a permanent occasion. He had hoped that it would cause a shift in society where the history of African Americans would become a part of American history. 

At the time of Woodson’s death in 1950, he was still hoping Negro History Week would “outlive its usefulness.” Clearly, it did not. In 1976, President Gerald Ford expanded the week into the whole month of February, as it has remained since. 

Black History Month was not created with the intention of causing harm or segregation. President Gerald Ford wanted the public to, “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” However, what was meant to start a conversation in all aspects of everyday life, as white history is, has ended up limiting the dialogue to within the confined dates of February.

Illustration by Alli Runnfeldt

As a result, many important people and events are left out. More often than not, the only names and accomplishments we hear about are from Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass. These people are tremendously important and should be discussed, but so should the influences of the Harlem Renaissance, Black inventors of the 1900s, early Black literature and lesser known important activists and leaders.

A 2015 study by the National Museum of African American History and Culture showed that U.S. history classes devote about one or two lessons, or about 8 to 9 percent of total class time, to Black History. Even more troubling, there are no national history standards, meaning it is all up to the states; as of 2014, 12 states did not even require lessons on the civil rights movement, and less than half covered Jim Crow laws. In order to fully understand American history, we must teach Black history.

It can easily be argued that our country needs Black History Month to remind Americans to pay attention to Black history in general. However, Black History Month is not working; it has become an easy way for lazy allies to pat themselves on the back while not putting in any real work. Many companies and businesses put up signs for Black History Month in February to show the public they support the Black community, but do not do any work outside of that single month. Without caring for the Black communities beyond surface-level sentiments, they attempt to  capitalize on opportunity by getting more young consumers purchasing their products. According to a 2019 Do Something report, 58 percent of young consumers say a brands association with popular social causes greatly impacts their choices of purchases. What is supposed to help and support the Black community has become a boost in income for big companies. 

The goal should be to no longer need Black History Month by integrating Black history into history year round. In order for this to happen, education curriculums and the standards for businesses need to change. We need to hold businesses, states and people with platforms accountable for their lack of support for the Black community. The most important and urgent matter is the need for a federal U.S. history curriculum; we cannot make a difference if part of the population is missing widely important history and there is no common ground of knowledge.

I was taught my whole life that Black History Month was an indication of a world where racism no longer existed. As much as many people want to believe the Civil Rights Movement fixed everything, it simply did not. We may have come a long way since then, however, it is impossible to claim these things when we are still segregating Black history into a 28-day month.


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