It’s Black History Month, which means that I’ll spend the next few weeks basking in black pride, learning new things about black figures of the past and present, and dealing with a whole lot of racists on the internet and in real life. Great! No, but really, it’s that last bit that can turn a month of celebration into a month of misery, especially as a black woman.
And before any of you read this and think that you’re not part of the problem, you just might be. Some of the most egregious examples of racism I’ve dealt with during Black History Month aren’t coming from people who are self-described racists who think the KKK was pretty cool. No, it comes from people who would never think they have a racist bone in their body, until they ask a racially insensitive question and get called out for it. Some of the most seemingly innocent questions can be laden in a lot of racist BS and a general lack of understanding about how the world works. Need some examples to help you get through the month without pissing anybody off? Check out these seven questions you should never ask during Black History Month. Instead, receive the answers you’re seeking without making an ass out of yourself. Good luck!
1. “If there can be a Black History Month, why isn’t there a White History Month?”
It’s impossible to accept the answer to this question without realizing the following quick and dirty facts: There’s a history of racism in the United States based on a hierarchy that puts white people at the top, white people aren’t systematically oppressed based on the color of their skin, and there’s a history of black people being oppressed because they’re black. Are we all on the same page? Okay, cool. Black History Month is a way to reflect on the history, continued struggles, and important achievements of black people, something that has been undervalued and often ignored in a country that was literally built on racism and continues to neglect black lives. The accomplishments and history of white people are already at the center of our education–be it in history class or English class–our media, etc. Isn’t a month dedicated to what we already do every day pretty redundant? Plus dedicating a month to whiteness is actually just a month about white supremacy. That would be great from an educational standpoint, but a place of pride? Not a good look.
Want to celebrate pride? There are plenty of months dedicated to groups that are largely white without celebrating whiteness. There’s an Irish History Month in March, Italian History Month in October, and so on. Why celebrate whiteness instead of those things?
2. “Okay, I get why we might have needed Black History Month a long time ago, but why do we still need it now? America elected a black president, racism isn’t such a big deal anymore! It’s outdated.”
Racism still exists. Black people are still disproportionately punished for the same crimes as white people. Black people are still racially profiled thanks to stereotypes. It’s 2016 and black people are still getting ignored by the Academy Awards. Politicians are inciting fear based on race in hopes of winning elections. Unarmed black people are still getting killed by the police on a regular basis because they “look suspicious.” So, tell me, how is racism not a big deal anymore? Why should we ignore black issues?
3. “Doesn’t Black History Month just make racism worse?”
Is Woman’s History Month making the world more sexist? No, and Black History Month isn’t making the world more racist. You know what is making the world more racist? People who are racist.
4. “Black history is a part of American history. Why let this divide us even more?”
First of all, black history isn’t just American history. There were, are, and will always be black people all over the place. But when it comes to black Americans, the fact is that our history is still ignored in most history classes and courses. Most people go through their entire high school experience without even being able to name five iconic black authors. I’m not sure why people think that focusing on a marginalized group’s experiences is divisive, that just doesn’t make sense unless you think that anything that doesn’t focus on white people’s history and experiences is a distraction. Hmmmm…
5. “Haha, why is Black History Month during the shortest month of the year?”
This is actually a fair question that always gets a few laughs, but here’s a quick history lesson for you: Black History Month was originally Negro History Week and it started way back in 1926 thanks to Carter G. Woodson and Jesse E. Moorland. It just became a month long after it grew in popularity. It’s a coincidence that the week just happened to belong to the shortest month of the year!
6. “Black History Month is boring. Slavery, Civil Rights, Obama, the end. Why dedicate an entire month to that?”
Uh, that’s part of the problem. Not only is black history and black experiences more than just slavery and Martin Luther King Jr., there are also tons of black figures in history that people aren’t even taught about in school! And it’s not just political figures; why don’t people read books from black writers in Literature class? Why don’t people learn about black artists? They do exist. Also, honestly, most schools do an absolutely garbage job of teaching slavery and the civil rights movement. Martin Luther King Jr’s message is watered down to, “be nice to each other” and his radical speeches about white supremacy, poverty, and war are largely ignored. Plenty of schools never even teach you about Malcolm X because he’s seen as too radical. Black women are ignored entirely, aside from Harriet Tubman and Rosa Parks, who were great, but not the only great black people making history. Black history isn’t boring, you just need to open your eyes.
7. “Black History Month is just for black people. Why force the rest of us to celebrate it?”
Black History Month is a great reason for black people and non-black people to familiarize themselves with black art, music, history, etc. This month is literally for anyone and everyone who wants to learn a lil’ something, so why be opposed to that? Read some James Baldwin and get woke, okay?
Which of these questions gets on your nerves the most? Do you think there are any legit questions to ask during BHM? Tell us in the comments!