Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Should we cancel Black History Month?


Evidently there's an effort to cancel Black History Month. Their argument is that Black History should be celebrated year-round and it is paternalistic toward Black people to only celebrate it one time out of the year.

I agree that Black History should be incorporated into our regular American History text books and classes. However, the fact of the matter is, it's not.

When I teach my Diversity and Equity in Education course at Texas A & M-Commerce, I have the students do several activities to help them become more aware of our lack of awareness. I would challenge you to do the same. Let's try an activity...and please don't read ahead.

Only take about 3-5 minutes for each of the following questions. Try to scroll only as far as the end of the direction.

List 6 people who, in your judgment, have made important, positive contributions to the world or to U. S. society and culture.

Great.

Now list 6 men and 6 women who, in your judgment, have made important, positive contributions to the world or to U. S. society and culture.

Excellent.

Now list 6 Whites, 6 Black/African Americans, 6 Hispanic/Latino/Latina Americans, 6 American Indians/Native Americans, and 6 Asian Americans who, in your judgment, have made important, positive contributions to the world or to U. S. society and culture.

Perfect.

Now look at your lists.

What are the demographics of your first list? What was the dominant culture you listed? What was the dominant gender?

How much more challenging was it to name female contributors?

How well did you do when asked to list 6 people in each culture?

I've done this with quite a few groups...and the results are always the same. More than likely, whether your Black, White, Asian, Hispanic, or any other culture, your first list consisted mostly of males and mostly of White people. More than likely, it was a little challenging to list 6 women. And it is likely that you're now thinking of women and saying that you just didn't have enough time (which is part of the point...the point is to list the people you think of off the top of your head). And finally, more than likely, it was easy for you to list 6 White people, more challenging to list 6 African-Americans, and even harder as you went through the other cultures.

Also, look at how many of your White contributors are intellectuals vs. sports heroes and entertainers. How does that compare to your Black contributors?

I'm guessing that everyone put President Obama on their list...probably Martin Luther King, maybe Rosa Parks. But if you take out the popular ones talked about every Black History month, who else did you put?

What about Garrett Morgan who invented the stoplight? Matthew Henson who was the first one to help discover the north pole? John Lewis, a major person in the civil rights movement and now a congressman? Diane Nash, another major leader during the civil rights movement? Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou, Alice Walker, Richard Wright...all great authors?

Black History month (February)...Hispanic Heritage month (Sept. 15-Oct. 15)...Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (May)...and many others...are still important because to this point, other cultures simply haven't been integrated into our regular lives enough for any of us to easily recognize those achievements.

I completely agree that Black History (and every other cultural history) should be incorporated into a regular history lesson year-round. But I listen to teachers every semester tell me, "We don't have time." For some reason, people still see other cultures as an additional burden. Until teachers and others figure out that every culture has made significant contributions to our country, the focused months are still needed.
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