The Great February. Quite distinct from the rest of the months. 28 days! These short 28 days are commonly known as Black History Month. This joke goes around my community of black friends every year. But while this joke is pretty important, there is something we should identify and really focus on when acknowledging black history. Black History Month does very little for the black community and many large corporations use this month as a way to commodify black people and their struggle.
Black History Month was introduced in 1915 by Carter G. Woodson, also known as the “Father of Black History”. This first stepping stone was then officially recognized in 1976 by former President Gerald Ford to celebrate black history nationwide.
However, when I think of how black history is celebrated, I often think of how many people are brought into the month through the education system. Maya Ashe (23Ox) recalls her childhood memories of initially knowing what Black History Month was at school.
“I remember when I was younger I told my mum it was cool that we had a whole month to ourselves and then she said ‘It’s because white people have the rest of the year.’ It really puts me in a lot of perspective,” Ashe said.
I vividly remember being first introduced to Black History Month in elementary school. I was so fascinated to know that I was getting to know people who looked like me like Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and Madame CJ Walker. I remember every year in one of my history classes I watched “Our Friend Martin,” which provides an animated overview of Martin Luther King Jr.’s rise to become such a stepping stone to life. civil rights era. However, this movie was played to me almost every year I was in elementary school. And it kind of got frustrating. Why was Martin Luther King Jr. the only person shown? Weren’t there other important blacks?
While I didn’t understand it then, today I now know the reason for Martin Luther King Jr.’s constant appearance during Black History Month. He was most acceptable to white people. White people, especially in school systems, implemented the curriculum during Black History Month so that no radicals like Claudia Jones, CLR James and Kwame Ture were exposed. Instead, it would be the same three blacks, which does not give a fair representation of blacks. In a sense, we’re hidden, and white people pick and choose which black people we’ll learn about, regardless of black people’s opinions. Simply put, they hide the story.
For so long, black people have only wanted to be freed from the shackles of colonialism, and whenever we yearn for that freedom and expression, we don’t get it at all. In fact, we get the opposite of what we wanted. Black History Month was originally created to recognize black people from diverse backgrounds and shed light on black issues, but it has been commodified. It turned into this month of “solving” all the problems America and white people have caused black people. It’s practically a way to shut up black people and get them noticed for a month.
So many businesses like Bath & Body Works not only thrive on Black History Month, but ignore the message at hand. Most recently, Bath & Body Works has face to face for the recent Black History Month Collection they released. Instead of making a genuine effort to help the black community, Bath & Body Works threw tribal prints and positive words on products to show off their supposed alliance. Even more appalling, their attempt to support was nothing but a watermelon-scented candle highlighting the display of the Black History Month collection. Yet I’m not even surprised at performative activism covered in racist tactics. We have to recognize black people. Not only the blacks of the past, but also the blacks of today. There are so many issues that are wiping out black communities and instead of receiving performative activism, we actually need change.
It starts with introducing more black people instead of the same three at school. It starts from eradicate the pipeline from school to prison. It starts with decreasing rates of murders of black people by police officers – black Americans are 3.23 times more likely than white Americans to be killed by police. In order to heal the racist tensions that cripple our society today, we must work to end these systemic issues rather than profit from the commodification of black humanity.
I believe that Black History Month is problematic. Living in a predominantly black community for most of my life, I have seen firsthand how little Black History Month has done for the black community. What have these big companies done to support black communities instead of slapping the Black History Month logo on products? Nothing whatsoever. Black History Month is filled with performative acts from government and corporations.
However, that shouldn’t stop us from teaching people about black history. We can make Black History Month meaningful by not focusing it solely on black trauma. We should celebrate the future of black people, support black-owned businesses, volunteer in black communities, donate to black charities, and amplify black voices.
“It’s important to learn about decades of black trauma so that we know why we are where we are today and how the nation has used and abused black bodies,” said Makalee Cooper (23Ox ).
Together, as a community, we can use this month not only to recognize historic black leaders, but also to help black communities. Black History Month shouldn’t be the only time black people are recognized – we deserve to be recognized year-round.
Aisha Tunkara (23Ox) is from Atlanta, Georgia.