Wednesday, January 14, 2009

'Why I hate Black History Month' flier draws criticism

From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:

A flier headlined “Why I hate Black History Month” that was sent home with St. Louis-area schoolchildren has been tweaked after a handful of complaints.

Organizers say they were trying to emphasize the importance of learning about black history all year long, not just in February.

A bit more here.

Okay, so this really is a legitimate mistake, not some of the typical white bashing of Black History Month we see every year around this time--these people were trying, albeit failing, to make a good point. And given the nasty comments Houston Chronicle online readers were leaving under the story, it's a point well worth making.

Back when I was teaching high school, whenever February rolled around, some misguided or asshole white kid would inevitably ask me, "So why don't we have white history month, too?"

My typical response was always along the lines of "We already have white history month, all year long; it's simply called 'history'." Indeed, the problem is deeply embedded in how the education establishment understands history itself. As radical historian Howard Zinn and others have observed, history, in all cases at the K-12 level, and many cases at the university level, is seen from the point of view of power. That is, history, as popularly understood and taught, is from the perspective of governments, nation-states, powerful men, and powerful business entities. We rarely hear about average, ordinary people, people of color, women, workers, citizens, and the like, despite their obvious major contributions to the slow evolution/devolution of civilization we think of as "history." So it's not simply that "history" in America is white; it's that "history" is about white power--this is bad for all kinds of reasons, but probably the biggest one is that it causes people to think that their personal interests are the same as the powerful white men who run the world, which is only occasionally true.

Black History Month goes a long way toward repairing the problem, but not nearly far enough. History, as an academic subject, must change such that it reflects actual history, which includes much, much more than the relatively simple story of white power. Until that happens, we absolutely need special events like Black History Month highlighting what "history" leaves out.

This isn't rocket science, but so many white people seem so fucking deluded and resentful on the issue. We've got a black president now. Can't whitey just get the fuck over it?