The Case for White History Month

It’s February — a cold, dark, miserable month, when winter feels like it will never end and the only thing hitting us in the face more than the frigid wind is the commercialization of love and romance in the form of hearts and flowers and an endless parade of pink. I dislike nearly everything about this month, but there is one aspect in particular that irritates me more than any other: the barrage of fragile white people bemoaning the lack of a “white history month.”

God forbid they set aside the shortest month of the year to give black people their due and recognize their contributions to this country and to the world. Oh no, that’s “reverse racism,” they say (that’s not a thing).

In my experience, these are the same people who want to keep confederate statues in place to “preserve history,” despite the fact that these monuments were erected as an attempt to rewrite history that extended from the public square to the classroom. A simple Google search reveals example after example. A Texas mom was alerted by her son to phrasing in a textbook that referred to slaves as “workers,” which would imply that they were, you know, paid for their labor. A Canadian textbook maker came under fire for a passage that stated “When the European settlers arrived, they needed land to live on. The First Nations peoples agreed to move to different areas to make room for the new settlements.” Agreed? Hardly.  In Oklahoma, a bill to ban AP history on the grounds it wasn’t “patriotic” enough overwhelmingly passed a legislative committee on education before receiving backlash from teachers. In 2015, the Texas Board of Education adopted new curriculum that downplayed the role of slavery (or, as one member put it, a “side issue.”) And let’s not forget the misrepresentation of facts from politicians and elected officials, such as the time Rep. Michele Bachmann claimed – and then defended – remarks that the Founding Fathers “worked tirelessly” to abolish slavery when, in fact, many of them owned slaves themselves. The list goes on and on.

It’s working. A recent study found that high school students have a distressing lack of knowledge about slavery. For instance, only 8 percent of seniors — 8 percent — can identify slavery as the central cause of the Civil War (it was).

All of which got me thinking. The primary argument against White History Month — the one I’ve used myself in the past — is that every other month is White History Month. On its face, it’s a valid point. But it’s not exactly true. Every other month is really more like Whitewashing History Month. So maybe we should have a White History Month — one dedicated to correcting the record on the warm and fuzzy version we’ve been taught.

But why not just redouble our efforts to teach these facts during Black History Month? you might ask. Maybe create an Indigenous Peoples Month, too? In my mind, there are two problems with that. First, it takes the focus off the history that has never been taught at all. Did you watch Hidden Figures? There are undoubtedly thousands of stories like it that should be unearthed and celebrated, and Black History Month is a time to do just that. Secondly, while there is no doubt that slavery is inextricably linked to black history, placing the burden of its lessons in Black History Month serves as yet another way for white people to absolve themselves of their role in it.

But when? you might ask. I propose October. The month when we shamefully continue to celebrate Columbus Day, named for a white man who never set foot in what is now the United States but did engage in sex trafficking, torture, enslavement, and murder. It is also the month when many white people dress in Halloween costumes that reduce other human beings to caricatures.

October would also serve as a nice precursor to the ultimate whitewashed holiday. I’m talking, of course, about Thanksgiving. Contrary to popular belief, it is not a celebration of that time indigenous people were misguidedly nice to us. Sure, they shared a meal with white settlers (not factory-farm raised turkey and pumpkin pie, but that’s a topic for another time). However, that feast did not result in an annual gathering, nor was it referred to as “Thanksgiving.” The term was first used by Massachusetts Gov. John Winthrop to celebrate the massacre of hundreds of native people — many of whom burned alive.

White people mark this occasion by not only turning a blind eye to the atrocities of our ancestors, but also by watching a football team degradingly referred to as the Redskins.

Something tells me that if we used “white history month” to brush off the sugarcoating and reveal the sour center of our past, proponents would suddenly develop a profound distaste for the concept. They would become very uncomfortable very quickly.  

Which is exactly why we should oblige them.

 

Laura Forbes is a marketing and public relations professional, blogger, and activist. Follow her on Twitter @lauralforbes and facebook.com/lauralforbes


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