Black History Month is beyond a farce – I believe it’s the perfect intersection between well-meaning sincerity and an accidentally damaging ignorance that is rife in this genre of social equality movements. The idea that we can educate and inspire genuine change in what is essentially a month-long festival is perhaps the greatest barrier to social integration. The statement that ‘#blacklivesmatter’ is evidently untrue if we feel the need to assign a particular month when they matter.
Equality is the ability to look at every month and truly feel that it’s yours. A month of Black History by necessity means eleven of White History, whereas in truth there should be twelve months of History. Whatever the origin of the need for the month, be it a feeling of vindication after years of oppression, or a nobler desire to get others to understand our heritage, the championing of the compartmentalisation of history and thus the segregation of exactly what one wanted to interconnect and cross-fertilise is inherently a ‘one step forwards, two steps back’ approach to integration. If the premise of the month can be summarised to essentially be ‘black people have a history, just like white people do’, then by isolating it and treating it in a thoroughly different way to the way in which White History is approached, then this movement immediately defeats what it set out to do. It instead creates a retrospective apartheid. February acts as the prison in which Black History is contained, and we can get on with whatever it is we were doing after it.
In this circumstance, we either concede that black lives don’t matter during the other months, or that black lives become more important than other lives during February. It is a complete fallacy to argue that black lives remain equally important throughout the year as a time exists during which we feel the need to focus on them. It follows that we are either neglected or we are superior – what it doesn’t logically suggest is any form of equality.
With equality comes the question of worth. If one looks at the kind of black history that is taught and disseminated, it is incredibly selective. We rightly praise Mary Seacole’s efforts in the Crimean war, Rosa Parks’ incredible determination and Langston Hughes’ literary talent in Black History Month to name but a few, but when analysed this is very revealing. It’s revealing because there is an idea that the people commemorated must have done something bold and had a positive impact – in other words, a subconscious feeling exists that black people must prove their worth by demonstrating what they’ve done for the world. Simply existing is no longer the only criterion for equal treatment – we must also have a practical application as without one we lose our right to be treated as fellow human beings.
We fail to talk about other parts of black history; the slave trade that operated in Africa long before the advent of colonialism, the Rwandan Genocide, Francois Duvalier’s murdering of his own citizens, and many other atrocities that were performed by black people, which are also a part of Black History. We don’t talk about these for fear of losing our ‘worth’ as people, but the obvious reality is that all races have darks hours as well as incredible triumphs, and by ignoring these or systematically removing them from the limelight, then Black History Month becomes Black Triumph Month, which really translates itself to mean Please, We’re Not Inferior.
Black History Month is an annual reminder that that this country isn’t ‘my real country’. It’s an annual reminder that perhaps without the good deeds performed by people with whom I happen to share my skin colour, I might somehow be worth less, that my value depends on those who came before me. It’s an annual reminder that a dichotomy exists between the history I can claim ownership of and the history that belongs to my friends. And what is farcical about this is that these ideas are propagated by the same people who set out with the intention of convincing me that the opposite is true. Thus, there is no malevolent force at the heart of this issue, but rather a tragic miscommunication of ideas.
Black History Month owes its existence almost entirely to the failure of governments to provide a fully rounded historical education for its students. It would immediately become redundant and obsolete if the teaching of history became race-neutral. Meanwhile there is a poisonous idea spread equally by racists and entirely honourable people who strive for equality that history is in some way dependent on the colour of one’s skin. But in truth, there is no Black History or White History, there is only History.