Here are some questions you don’t see too often on a mom blog:
- Who was W.E.B. DuBois and what role did he play in American history?
- What was Jim Crowe and how did it effect black life from the Civil War to the present?
- What were Langston Hughes’ most important writings and how was his work perceived by American society in his lifetime?
Why are you reading these questions? Because it’s almost February, Black History Month, and these are just a few of the millions of questions worthy either of a dissertation or, at least, a good delving into next month.
Unfortunately, however, instead of these or similar inquiries, you’re much more likely to hear this question come February:
“Why don’t we have a White History Month if we have a Black History Month?”
On one hand, the question is understandable. Of course we all want to be viewed as people worthy of recognition and for our rich histories to be recognized. On the other hand, the question reveals a sad truth American society and, to some extent, our education system: We are a people with selectively short memories.
Black History Month started as a way to recognize the history of a people whose history had largely been either erased or written without consent. And, although notable African Americans are these days incorporated to a larger extent into American history texts, black history is still entirely secondary within the dominant American historical narrative. After all, how well can you answer the opening questions? Most Americans would not thrive at this task, and it’s not because they failed history. And it’s also not because the answers to those questions are unimportant.
Teaching a people’s history serves to validate the experiences and indeed the existence of that people, but it also benefits those of us members of the dominant culture, the purveyors of historical consciousness. It is only by knowing another’s history that we can truly say we know a person, and there are countless ways that we profit in doing so: from “the business case for diversity” that argues—proves, really—that cultural competence is an important component of business acumen, to the less measurable enrichment of our lives that often occurs when we experience and learn from people who are different from ourselves.
The benefit most important to me, though, especially when I think of my own children, boils down to the simple but impossible-to-overestimate importance of being informed. And in 2015, this particular history seems particularly relevant. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably witnessed race making the news quite a bit lately.
The shooting of numerous black men by police officers across the country has reignited a debate that has taken place since our country’s inception: Are African Americans being given a fair deal? But regardless of our individual answers to this question and our stances on the incidents that have recently occurred, one thing most of us can agree on is that we’d like ourselves and our children to be able to come to our own conclusions armed with the knowledge required to say we are truly informed.
If for this reason alone, let’s take some time next month to brush up on our history.