I would like to preface this article by noting that yes, I am a white female, and as such, I have a limited worldview concerning the experiences of Black people across the globe due to my inherent white privilege. That being said, I believe that Black history, despite the importance that it should warrant, is used as a way to superficially appease the country’s ever-growing race problem.
Black lives didn’t start mattering in summer 2020, and the same principle stands for the month of February, which has only existed as Black History month as a legislative measure since 1996. Black history is important and incredibly relevant year-round, so why is it only truly focused upon during this time of year? Even at the College of William and Mary, where we have more than enough money to provide for inclusive classes and voices, we struggle to keep the staff and options we currently have.
The figures focused upon are typically both white-washed and white-approved choices that fit a certain narrative. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was indeed a powerful and incredibly valuable member of the Civil Rights movement — which has likewise always existed for people of color and minorities — but he was not the only one. Further, Black History Month programs typically teach that Malcolm X particularly argued for physical self-protection against white hatred, whereas King believed in the quiet and peaceful dignity of simply taking it.
Malcolm X obviously does not conform to the way in which the government wishes to handle racism, so of course they tend to highlight King and his philosophy while shrouding Malcolm X and his achievements in shadow. Another notable slight on true Black History is the complete ignorance concerning the start of the freedom rides and integrated public transport. Claudette Clovin, 15 years old and dark-skinned and incredibly brave, refused to give up her bus seat to a white woman almost an entire year before Rosa Parks did the same exact thing. Clovin’s experience, genuine as it may be, is not the specific portrayal that modern celebrations of Black History Month choose to enhance and utilize. Black History Month slights Claudette each and every year, as she is continuously not spoken up about, and this has much to do with the rampant colorism and racism that pervades even supposedly Black spaces.
Given all of this and more, our country and our people need to do much better. It is not enough to merely have a half-a**ed Black History Month, especially when Black men and women are still being murdered in our streets by the very members meant to protect them. Until a post-racial society is achieved, if such a thing is even possible, having the government focus on the past rather than the future only slows progress.
The College itself needs to do better, because what good do acts like a monument to the enslaved do when a few hundred feet away, the glorification of colonial and slave-era America exists in the form of Colonial Williamsburg? What good does the Black History Museum do when Black business owners and change-makers are not given voices in society? And most importantly, what good is Black History Month as it stands other than to distract us from our country’s racial shortcomings?
Elaine Godwin ‘22 is an English and Data Science double major. As a queer person, she has a unique view on the world and is dedicated to inclusion for the LGBTQ+ community. Email Elaine at firstname.lastname@example.org.