Written by: Sakshi Kaur – Grade 11
Black History Month was first nationally recognized in Canada in February 1996. Today, in 2016, we celebrate its 20th anniversary. Historica Canada describes how the month is “an opportunity to share and learn about the experiences, contributions and achievements of peoples of African ancestry.”And it seems like every year, including this year, the observance gains more and more attention than the previous.
The keyword in “Black History Month” is history, and we need to realize that the initial objective of the month is that we are trying to recognize the largely ignored past of the African-American race and bring it to light. We are trying to remember that the actions of our ancestors cannot be simply excused or forgotten. We use the month of February to make everyone recall that black history can never be simply addressed as solely “a part” of the Canadian or American history, as it needs to be identified exclusively to really understand the gravity of what took place over the last two centuries. It’s an opportunity to stay conscious that the process of de-marginalizing black people in our society and in mainstream media is nowhere near complete.
February is a great month as it allows this wave of consciousness to go beyond just the history and also act as a movement for the oppression against African-Americans in modern day too. However, not everyone is keen on the idea of black people receiving this much attention.
There’s a portion of the population who view this event as racist, which is a notion mainly supported by white people. They believe that either it shouldn’t exist, or that there should be a “White History Month.” These people also lean towards the belief that racism against black people is no longer alive.
There are also other people of color who disapprove the awareness of black people if awareness of other minorities won’t be included too, either in separate months or alongside black people.
Alongside the popularity that Black History Month gains every year, judgment and critiquing does too, to a point where it’s no longer easy to just brush off. A good chunk of these criticisms are formed by being misinformed or uneducated on the topic. These people tend to ignore the essential purpose and intent of the month and rather fixate their attention on the aspect of where all the focus is directed.
The United States of America and Canada hold similar motives as to why they brought the concept of black awareness to the spotlight and took formal measures to have it properly acknowledged annually. With most of the non-black population not knowing much about black history in both countries beyond the concept of slavery, we realize that the amount of knowledge we are taught about black ancestry pales in comparison to what we know about our white ancestors.
And yes, this means recognizing important black figures beyond Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and Harriet Tubman. It ends up being quite sad because even the number of Canadian Prime Ministers that high school students know tends to be higher than that. When asked to reflect about an aspect of black history, how many students would be able to answer something other than about the Underground Railroad? When asked about the slavery of African-Americans, how many students would be able to include answers about the Canadian involvement in the slave trade and not just point to America as the villain?
The amount of negligence in black excellence that is taught in both America and Canada is nothing to be proud of. It’s progressed a lot in the past decades, yes, but are we at a point where we can say that it is equal to the amount of white excellence in history that is taught, like it should be? Can we say that the collective identity of black people is easily accepted as a part of the American or Canadian identity as a whole?
We all should know the answer to that, which is unfortunately no.
It’s here where we need to ask ourselves “then why do we truly need a Black History Month?”
We need it because it reminds us of the very fact that we aren’t educated or as conversant about black excellence like we are with white excellence. We need it because since we fail to recognize that black people need awareness all months of the year, we might as well do it for until we reach that goal. We need it because without it we wouldn’t bring these critical thoughts to surface; the ones that legitimately question why our system is still subconsciously and discreetly working like we have for centuries: with a social division dictated by color.
We need it because even though people may not realize, but every other month basically is “White History Month.” We need to stop concentrating on who’s receiving the attention and instead fixate our view on why we’re doing it to begin with. Do other minorities need a month too? Probably. However, that shouldn’t have to take anything away from Black History Month.
Black people need to keep their month until society realizes that every month should be Black History Month, like white people have it. We need it until we don’t have to distinguish the two histories separately due to the lack of exposure of one compared to the other.
We need it until it is written in blood, in stone and in our textbooks; until every aspect of the Canadian and American identity is included in our history, with no color of skin blurring and blocking the focus or the facts.