Does Black History Month separate more than it unites?

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     Dr. Carter G. Woodson, circa 1940.  Called the father of Black History Month, in  1926 Woodson lobbied schools to institute

    Dr. Carter G. Woodson, circa 1940. Called the father of Black History Month, in 1926 Woodson lobbied schools to institute "Negro History Week" to encourage the study of African American accomplishments. (Smithsonian Institution Archives)

    I’ve been thinking a lot about Black History Month. I get a lot of questions, often about “Do we still need Black History Month?” It’s difficult for me to answer because, to be honest with you, I live black history every day.

    The following is a transcript from the Feb. 25 edition of the WHYY podcast “The Remix with Dr. James Peterson.”

    I’ve been thinking a lot about Black History Month. I get a lot of questions, often about Do we still need Black History Month? Should we still celebrate Black History Month? Does it separate us more than it unites us to carve out a particular time and space to and acknowledge and reflect upon black history?

    It’s a difficult series of questions for me to answer because, to be honest with you, I live black history every day. I teach it; I’m speaking about black culture and black life; so it is literally a 365-day-a-year project for me to be engaged with black life, black art, black culture, and black history.

    So I’m probably not the most objective person to answer those questions, but my sense is that the question is kind of a faulty question in the first place.

    The month is designated to try and commemorate what is an important aspect of American history. The reason Carter G. Woodson initiated Negro History Week was to try to raise awareness around that history, not just for white folks, but for black folks as well. It was an empowerment tool. It was designed to try to empower young people of color to understand their history and understand their role, not just in American society, but in the broader global community.

    I still believe that Black History Month preserves some of those same purposes.

    It’s interesting to see it in the new media, digital-information age where people are tweeting out images or linking you to archives. Earlier this week I saw a story on social media — about 4,000 names of people who had been lynched at a certain period. Theres a way in which Black History Month actually deserves to have the benefit of the social media movement to circulate and generate more information about that very important history.

    So I think Black History Month is here to stay, and for those folk who think it separates us more than it brings us together, my sense is that maybe if you celebrate Black History Month with us a little bit more, you would understand the togetherness of it.  So let’s keep Black History Month around for a few more millennia, if you don’t mind.

    “The Remix with Dr. James Peterson” is a weeky podcast from WHYY that takes a fresh look at how race, culture and politics intersect. Host James Peterson, director of Africana Studies and associate professor of English at Lehigh University, talks to people who are not necessarily in the mainstream news cycle, but who are driving opinions, news and movements through media platforms new and old.

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