Every time Black History Month rolls around, I hear some foolishness muttered from various disgruntled melanin challenged folks about the monumental unfairness of there being no White History Month. Without fail, there are accusations of reverse racism and intense rants that wander into tangents that decry the lack of a white counterpart to Ebony magazine and BET.
After listening to several years of this, I just had to formally address those tortured souls who are angry about black folks ‘stealing’ the shortest month on the calendar.
Number one, y’all have the rest of the year. And, before Negro History Week started in 1926, y’all had the entire month of February too.
And let’s not forget that white people have traditionally had the bulk of recorded history on their side as well. From the unassailable bravery of the early settlers, to the riveting, definitely not problematic in any way founding of the country, to the steadfast belief in manifest destiny, the history of the United States is chocked full of the courageous exploits of (mostly) white men. If we think of history as a narrative with a starting point that extends backwards as far as collective memory allows and continues to the present day, then the authors of that narrative get to choose the stories that are included, the word choice, the chapter headings, the heroes, the villains, and the exclusion of the nameless rabble that are judged unsuitable to even make appearances as supporting cast members.
If we just narrow our conversation to the United States (and that in itself is problematic considering that, in the grand scheme of history, we’re relative newcomers), the authors of our American narrative are indisputably wealthy white men. Upon the birth of the nation, they were the sole group able to vote, to have a voice in the creation of our government, and to serve in office. Women were excluded. Black people were property. Free people of color (inclusive of Native Americans) were less than an afterthought that held zero political power within white society.
In the constraints of that carefully constructed tale of white male bravery, ingenuity, and perseverance in the face of adversity, where is the room for the contributions of people of color? Of women? Where is the counterbalance that’s only possible when other voices are brought to the table to share their perspectives?
In history classes from elementary to high school, we are taught that white men ‘discovered’ this continent. That they stood up to a tyrannical monarch and forged a democratic republic that would change the course of human history. That, through the divine edict of manifest destiny, the country metastasized from sea to shining sea, spreading the gifts of freedom and democracy across formerly uninhabited land.
But what of the Native Americans who were already living here when Europeans turned up? What about the black folks who toiled, unpaid and in chains, as property from the 1600’s until the Civil War granted them tentative freedom? What about women who passed from the possession of their fathers to the possession of their husbands? Where are those voices? Did these people truly contribute nothing to this country?
If the narrative we’re fed as children is to be believed, then, as a whole, no, these other people didn’t contribute much of value. There are exceptions, of course, but those merely prove the rule: white men are the focal point of history. Their deeds alone are honorable, courageous, and worthy of celebration.
Suffice to say, there’s no real need for White History Month, because we’ve basically been celebrating the illustrious history of white men 7 days a week, 365 days a year, from the time they set foot on the continent until the present day.
Things like Black History Month should be viewed as an attempt to balance scales that have been seriously out of whack for centuries. POCs and women aren’t simply supporting characters in the riveting production of white male excellence. We aren’t nameless, faceless extras in the background of a narrative about how fantastic white men have unilaterally judged themselves to be. History is more complex than that. Even within the significant constraints society placed on POCs, women, and Native Americans, they still made massive contributions to this country. And we’re finally adding their diverse voices to the narrative, enriching our overall understanding of history.
Instead of bemoaning the lack (ha!) of a White History Month, how about you question the lack of diverse voices in the history we were all taught as children? I’m furious when I learn about additional contributions made by POCs and women that were conveniently absent from the first twelve years of my education. Here’s one glaring example: I went to high school on Florida’s Space Coast, and yet the critical work of the women featured in the movie Hidden Figures was news to me.
Think about how many contributions of which we’re ignorant, about the lives and legacies we don’t bother to learn because no one bothered to teach them. It’s close to criminal.
We can do better.
Let’s change the narrative by consciously inviting a variety of perspectives, not just when viewing history, but when viewing the present day. Your point of view is limited to your education and beliefs. Do you actually want to learn, or do you want to keep ruminating on the same stale information you were force fed as a child? Diversity of perspective, of ideas, of storytellers should be encouraged, not feared. Only by including these formerly undervalued points of view will we gain the ability to comprehend the true richness of our shared history. Otherwise, it’s just he said-he said.