Forget Black History Month

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.


5 responses to “Forget Black History Month”

  1. I’m sure you know Polanyi’s theory of Focal and Tacit knowledge. Eventually that which is focal will become Tacit, but that is a process that takes time. BHM keeps Black History focal in the public’s mind, this is important as it is not part of our tacit understanding of history. When our history has black history fully integrated within it then the need for focal points will cease, unfortunately black history is not part of tacit understanding of history now and so I would argue that we still need the focal points. If we remove the focal point before it is tacit then it will disappear from the consciousness of the public.


  2. Yes, I’d agree with that in principle. But my concern is that a) the focal points are too obvious for any real depth to be seen or appreciated, and b) that the focal can actually serve to keep the tacit norm, tacit. What actually goes on on the ground – in schools, in libraries, among local councils, very often sticks to the bland and obvious, which means that, year after year when the same names are trotted out, people come to think that black history is shallow.

    I think more sophisticated integration would come with more low level integration into syllabi, better programming on TV etc. This annual focus means we can have a blind spot the rest of the year.

  3. David Austin

    I agree with the hope that ‘Black’ History is included in any comprehensive overview of human history, as taught in our educational institutions – but I still see a place for commemoration and celebration of Black History on designated days.

    Just because I live 365 days a year, I would still like to be remembered especially on my birthday. I am grateful for United Nation designated days – bringing into focus (and campaigning/support)neglected areas of our human population or plight. I think of national Holocaust Memorial Day – ‘lest we forget’, of Transgender remembrance Day and I recently saw S.African Womens Month celebrated in the media and local civic events and raising public awareness & support for those suffering domestic violence.

    The Church also has a calendar full of anniversaries & commemorations of the Saints – not just to keep alive their particular memory but also to show that their distinct contributions are still needed in the Church today. Let’s continue to celebrate that which we still consider worth celebrating.

  4. David Austin

    Yes – celebrations need to be done well – but a poorly organised party is better than no party at all (in my opinion).

  5. steve collins

    presumably the stuff in the gay/lesbian section of time out is there because the people who were posting it wanted it to be in that section? because they want a gay audience/don’t want straight people in their club. i dare say the section will fold when hardly anyone wants their stuff to be in it.