When is White History Month?

Inside:  Why is there a Black History Month?;  He called my mom ‘nigger’; my ancestors came from Africa, India, Turtle Island, Ireland/England and…; Nickelodeon observes; Disenfranchised young white people.

I Huffington-Posted my way to this the other day:

http://wheniswhitehistorymonth.tumblr.com/

I haven’t gotten any bites for guest bloggers so I guess I’ll write about it myself.  Please click that link for it is most eye opening.  Let me summarize it for you, though.

Asking the Question

It’s a collection of tweets saying, “There’s a Black History Month.  Why isn’t there a white history month?  #racist #racism #reverseracism #whitehistorymonth”.

If you want to save yourself from my rambling just go here:

http://racismschool.tumblr.com/post/16827056951/black-people-get-a-whole-month-what-about-us

Some of those are legitimate queries, by which I mean seeking information/knowledge.  It’s never wrong to ask why and to question authority or tradition.  I would much prefer that someone legitimately asks a question like that instead of bowing to the pressures of political correctness.  It’s not automatically racist to ask the question.

There are, however, in those tweets a lot of people being straight up racist.  One of them said, paraphrasing, “What are you complaining about?  We brought you here.”

Another person tweeted, “There better be a White History Month in Africa”.

That is as racist as it is ignorant.  But, that’s kind of the trap, though.  It’s not about race, really.  Anyone who has read my blogs for a while knows what I’m going to say next.

Ethnicity

Being Black — all these black things — it’s not about race.  It’s about ethnicity/culture.  Black History Month is no more racist than St. Patrick’s Day or Irish American Month.  Or Women’s History Month.

I’ve really been procrastinating on this, but I’ve been meaning to sit down with one of my uncles who has been researching our family tree.  If I understand this correctly, my father’s mother’s mother( give or take a mother) was kidnapped from Bombay, India.  My father’s father was part Native American, I think.  And he, my uncle, took a break after the family tree trail led to England/Ireland.

I don’t know a whole lot about my mother’s side of the family yet, but if you see pictures you’ll know that the trail leads down many paths and peoples.  And yet I’m black or African American.

It just so happens that due to that whole kidnapping and chattel slavery thing, which included a kind of cultural ethnic cleansing — black people were beaten, tortured or killed for speaking their language or making their music and then tortured or killed for attempting to learn to read English, ironically — we, African Americans have lost ties to our actual historical nationalities.

So, for example, I don’t know if I’m technically Kenyan- or Nigerian- or Gambian-American.  Plus all the other modifiers if we were going to go that route.  Africa is a huge continent with a skillion languages, ethnicities, cultures and so on.  Black people have had to kind of reset our sense of self to our common experience, which has become our culture.   Part of that experience included being abused based on the color of our skin or the color of the skin of anyone in our bloodline so that cultural ethnicity will always include (but not be limited to) the color of our skin.

A Poem about Rosa Parks

I was watching Spongebob Squarepants this morning.  So I could dvr “This Week” and not have to endure the commercials.  During the commercial break between Spongebob episodes, there was a poem performed by the young, black teen star of a new musical high school sitcom.

She performs a poem about Rosa Parks, accompanied by some cool animation, images and typography.

I think that kids and young adults know who Martin Luther King, Jr. is and that he “had a dream”.  They know who Rosa Parks is — some lady who didn’t want to give up her seat to a white guy.  They know that Barack Obama, a black man, is POTUS.  They know that Will Smith has starred in movie blockbusters and is hosting the Kid’s Choice Awards 2012.  They know that there were two black guys and a lot of other ethnic folk in “Fast and Furious 5: Fast Fistfuls of Furiosity”.  And they know that every which way they turn there’s some black people either being successful, calling things racist, or being over-represented on the news killing each other or otherwise doing petty and/or lethal criminal activity.

Pop Quiz!

Name 5 black historical figures(that means pre-1980s).  Go!

I thought I would point out the disparity in our exposure to European history and greatness and the ignoring of African and African American (and other) history and greatness.  But — and I do NOT mean this as an insult — today’s generation isn’t big on knowing things.  I’ve had a handful of conversations in which young people have balked at the importance of remembering facts.  I mean, why store up historical trivia in your brain when you can look it up on Wikipedia and Google?  And why look up anything on Wikipedia unless there’s an immediate need for it?  Otherwise, how is it relevant?

So you’ll see videos and maybe even reporting about young Americans not knowing basic historical facts.  Period.  Our history is often more of a general impression, like remembering a movie, than knowledge.  But still:

  1. Matthew Henson
  2. Dr. Charles Drew
  3. Lewis Latimer
  4. Mary McLeod Bethune
  5. Nat Turner
  6. Marcus Garvey
  7. Althea Gibson
  8. Booker T. Washington
  9. The Talented Tenth
  10. Medgar Evers
  11. Tuskegee Airmen
  12. Tuskegee Experiment
  13. Rosewood
  14. Black Wall Street
  15. Crispus Attacks
  16. Sally Hemmings
  17. Jesse Owens
  18. Garrett Morgan

Those are a few names off the top of my head and, frankly, I’d have to bone up on them in order to have an intelligent explanation or conversation about them.  But still.  (And to be totally honest, if you gave me a comparable list of Hispanic(?) Americans I’d have to admit ignorance.)

But let me see if I can break this into two questions.

1. Why was Black History Month created?

I would say that it’s in acknowledgement of the brutal, legitimized segregation and racism that was prominent up until the late 60’s.  Remember.  1976, when Black History Month became an observance, was only, like, 6 to 8  years after the peak of all of that evil.  That’s about the time when society came to a tacit consensus that, hey, hating black people and trying to squash them isn’t right.  At the very least, it shouldn’t be written into our laws.

1976.

We, as a society, were experimenting with living and working with one another in a new era of race relations.  We went from being declared as 3/5ths of a human being, to inferior human beings, to separate but “equal”, to an awkward combination of integrated and segregated.

2. Why do we still need one?

By the way, when we talk about today’s generation’s concept of knowledge, I mentioned the Jim Crow era the other day.  There were at least two white people in the room who asked me to remind them what that was all about.  “I heard about it in school, but…”

Young people today don’t have quite as much racial baggage, although I think we’re replacing it with socio-economic baggage.  Plus now you’ve got young white people who never have and would never think of themselves as being inherently superior to anyone based on genetics.  They or their parents never owned slaves.  They go to school with people of varied backgrounds.  Their friends and teammates are incredibly diverse.

Of course, many go home or to church in a very segregated community.  Real estate and property values say a lot.  But then again, I can’t assume that all white folks are comfortably middle class.  It’s a still a thing, though.

A “Nigger” Story

Late 1980’s.  My mom was driving me home from Summer Camp.  I had a scholarship of some sort to go there, I think.  We were in Dundalk, making a left from Merritt Blvd. on to Sollers Point Rd. to head back to Turner Station.  My mom stopped short at a crosswalk to let a family cross the street; white man, woman and one or two kids.

He looked at us with disdain, looked at my mom and said, “Goddamn niggers!”

She didn’t say anything.  I didn’t say anything.  I was 13 or 14 years old, I think.  We were quiet the rest of the way home.  That’s how it was back then, though.  Anger and hatred on sight because we were black.  Like their life would be great and they’d be wealthy jet setters living the dream if only it weren’t for all us niggers running around ruining their sh*t.  Overt racism was still kind of okay, as long as you weren’t running for public office.  Then you had to be more subtle about it and use code words to play on stereotypes and fears.

But it’s 2012

It’s not the late 1980’s anymore, though.  Overt racism exists, of course, but it’s not really considered okay.  A lot of the news stories about racism today are mostly about people saying ignorant things or using stereotypes.  They aren’t walking around saying or thinking “white power”.  They’re using the word nigger, but mostly emulating what they hear from hip hop artists.  They’re dressing in black face at parties.  They make statements that imply that black people are making out like bandits at the cost of hardworking white taxpayers.

Do we need it?

I’m not hung up on Black History Month, per se.  Do we NEED it.  Eh.  Not really.  I”m not saying it should go away.  But we need it the same way we need a Little Italy or Chinatown in every major city.  I think it’s great for people to celebrate their own identity and ethnicity and to know their history, especially if it’s done in an inclusive way.  But seeing how it’s dealt with on TV and the media, it’s trite.

You’ll see the same historical figures mentioned every year.  The same benign, over-simplified presentations with no meaningful context.

The next person to quote “I have a dream” when speaking of MLK, Jr. should have his or her mouth washed out with a bar of deferred dreams.

When is White History Month?

Meanwhile, young white people are feeling overwhelmed by minorities.  And white people won’t be the majority population for too much longer.  That’s already the case in some cities and states.

And let’s be honest here, since white people are the majority population, have the vast majority of political power and wealth, and have had a history of abuses and oppression, you can pretty much pick on white people and get away with it.

Life is complex.  People are complex.  Some of the tweeters said, “Where’s White History Month?  We’ve done some pretty great things, too.”

No doubt.  But among those pretty good things there’s a LOT of genocide and evil.  Done supposedly in the name of God, too.  If Africa had a White History Month it would have to be filled with exploitation, raping of the land and people, Apartheid and generally sh*tty behavior toward one’s fellow man and woman on a global scale.

America is great in many ways.  Worthy ideals.  Yee haw.  But it was built on stolen resources and the backs, the bones, and the endless pain and suffering of a lot of poor and/or black and brown people.   I’m not saying we should be hateful and spiteful.  I’m saying that we need to be real and keep things in perspective.  We became the largest and strongest economy in the world based on — here’s a euphemism for you — “cheap labor”.

Look at photographs of Congress.  Look at photos of the legislators of any state.  Look at photos of CEOs and such.  It’s ironic that a lot of white people feel disenfranchised.  Or maybe not.  The Tea Party (older white population) is, more or less, concerned about the size and power of government.  The Occupy Movement (younger white population) is, more or less, concerned about the influence of corporations on our government and in our lives.

I don’t care who you are.  $30,000 a year for college tuition is a disabling amount of money unless you’re very wealthy.  Think about aging and having insufficient health insurance.  That can be brutal.

So, as a friend said.  White History Month is every month because it’s assumed that America was a white thing.  A white, male thing, really.  You are taught the history of the majority population and culture.  Even that is often pretty one dimensional, though.  So every other month is Sterile, Disney-ized White History Month.

But again, blackness isn’t a race thing.  It’s an ethnicity thing.  So if you’re going to be offended by Black History Month, make sure you’re offended by “Kiss me, I’m Irish” T-shirts.  Or Italian, Indonesian, Thai, Chinese, Japanese, Russian or Caribbean street fairs.

We’re not celebrating the color of our skin or whatever your definition of race is.  We’re celebrating our cultural heritage and the contributions that came out of it.

FYI

  1. March is Irish American Heritage Month.
  2. October is Italian American Heritage Month.
  3. German American Day is October 6th so some cities celebrate German American Heritage during the month of October.  Plus Oktober Fest and all that.
  4. May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.
  5. I think June is Russian American Heritage Month in cities with large Russian communities.
  6. Confederate History Month is in April in the states that celebrate it.

Then I got tired of Googling.  Heck.  Go here.  I’ve copied it to the beginning of this blog, too:

http://racismschool.tumblr.com/post/16827056951/black-people-get-a-whole-month-what-about-us

What if…

But let’s say there was a White History Month?  What would be its focus?  And what would you want taught?

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2 comments

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  1. Britains

    I love when people throw out that there is an Irish American Heritage Month to defend Black History Month. The problem is when have the alleged Politically Correct Public Institutions ever show the same support for Irish American Heritage Month as they do Black History Month Here’s a little quiz:

    Does ESPN run specials on great Irish American Athletes (James Braddock, Connie Mack, Msartin Sheridan, etc, etc) as the do for Black Athletes in Black Hostory Month?

    Does the Smithsonian run a month of special programs supporting Irish American Heritage Month as they do for Black History Month?

    Does the History Channel, CNET, Public Teehvision run special programming for Irish American Heritage Month?

    Do schools have special learning plans for Irish American Heritage Month as they do Black History Month?

    Lets remember that the first Irish’s Americans to come to America also came as slaves, sent by Cromwell to support the plantations of Virginia (England only got into the African slave trade when the Crown saw there was more money in it). The Irish were sent to clear the swaps of Lousiana because those in power didn’t want to risk slaves (you could always get another Irishman). The Emancipation Proclaimation was issued after the battle of Antietam, a battle won at the cost of almost wiping out the Irish Brigade.,

    The problem is not with Black History Month, but what you do for one you have to fairly do for all. I am just as proud of my heritage as any other group. Have Black History Month, but when Irish American Heritage Month comes we expect the same treatment. Right not the only time anyone mentions Irish American Heritage Month is when they are defending Black History Month

    • garyarthuryoung

      Now THAT is a blog comment. Much appreciated, Britains.

      Cromwell. The man so nice he had to die twice.

      If I remember correctly, Irish people used to be referred to as “white niggers”. But still, 8 of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence were Irish American. Also, Ireland is well represented among American presidents, including Barack Obama, according to Wikipedia.

      Learn something new every day. And new re: my own Irish ancestors, too. Not that I’ve laid claim to it, other than wanting to go mountain biking in Ireland (and Scotland), loving the accents, and listening to the audiobooks of every Adrian McKinty novel as read by Gerard Doyle. And growing up in Dundalk. Dundalk, Maryland.

      Re: slavery and indentured servitude. The Irish were too often treated like human trash. But they were still considered human. Whereas, courts were debating whether or not blacks were people, animals, property or some combination. I guess they eventually decided on 3/5ths human and property.

      Anyway, as a Canadian-American friend said recently, “For the first two hundred years of this country, history was written by white people for white people.”

      On the year of the Bicentennial Black History Month was created.

      Irish Catholics had a rough time of it, but, being white with our historical racial dynamics they were able to assimilate into American culture as the working class. They have an ethnic sense of being Irish but have lost touch with Irish nationality.

      I guess that’s what it means to assimilate. I don’t mean that in a derogatory way either. That’s the natural progression of immigration.

      Meanwhile, Jim Crow laws ended around 1965, the same years as the Voting Rights Act. Segregation and oppression of black people being the Law of the Land. A fair amount of the legislators — the older ones — in office today (with Irish heritage/ancestry being well represented) grew up in those times.

      So it kind of makes sense how Black History Month came to be a thing.

      “We’re awesome! This great experiment of Democracy has survived and flourished for 200 years based on the principles of freedom, liberty and equality and God-given … Oh, we’ve been crapping all over black people until … about a minute ago. Land of the free, home of the brave and all that. Well, this is awkward. I kind of feel bad for all that, you know. All that stuff. Well, I guess we can acknowledge them somehow and pay a sign of respect.”

      “We could start with acknowledging that black people are a part of our history?”

      “Good idea. Let’s expand on Carter G. Woodson’s Negro History Week. Except I don‘t think they refer to themselves as negroes anymore.”

      Ha. I just entertained myself.

      Having said all of that, we should be learning more about our various heritages. Not just a holiday of clichés and parades where things are turned green and people get drunk. But history and how we all fit together.

      I think we need a Heritage Day or Week. LIke the Smithsonian’s Folklife Festival.

      Well … I’ve spent a lot more time pinging around online trying to respond to your comment. Very educational, but it’s time for me to move on to something else.

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