I came across this poster advertising ‘Black History Month‘ at a local school. Black History Month now lasts… 5 days.
I don’t think the school have it wrong actually. As a teacher I can see that Black History Month has become a distortion which can actually serve to perpetuate the white Euro-centric view of history. ‘Because we do Black History Month, we can forget about black history for the rest of the year’ is the underlying danger.
If we really want to get to grips with black history, we need to forget Black History Month. In the highly diverse city we live in an integrated approach to history should be taken as given, and courses should reflect the interdependent nature of our back-stories. The problem with an annual event like this – good though the motivation may be – is that it can become very cheapened as people do the token things, pulling out the same stock figures from black history like Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks and others. Black history, like all history, is highly complex, with heroes and villains and – in the quiet majority – ordinary people caught up in the day to day of an ordinary, evolving world.
The enclosing of this part of history into one month actually may strengthen the separation people feel between black history and ‘normal’ western history, and it’s my view that in order to give it the place it deserves, Black History Month needs to… become history. For the very same reasons I recently wrote to Time Out, asking how long they planned to run a separate Gay and Lesbian section of their listings magazine. Having that section surely serves to denominate gay and lesbian people as ‘special’ with separate needs. In a world where we should be trying to integrate, not separate, it seems counterproductive to persist in having listings which, frankly, serve to caricature gay and lesbian people as carnival-burlesque-fisting types, and make it easier for those who still fail to see gay people as ‘normal’ to demonise them. I received no reply.