It's that time again! Let's roll out the black history materials and talk about African-Americans as if most people really care about them, during the shortest month of the year. The pre-show, if you will, for Black History Month actually starts in mid-January when we honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and get a day off of school and maybe even work so that we can buy a new fridge during the King Day sales or hit the slopes or something. Of course the more socially minded tend to opt for a "day on" rather than a "day off" and actually aspire to help out less fortunate souls on King Day.
At my kid's school they colored some handouts and learned a ditty about Dr. King sung to the tune of the kids' song "Bingo" that reduced the essence of Dr. King down to him being a guy who wanted peace for everyone. The school's version of Dr. King and the Civil Rights movement sounds a lot different than what my dad lived through in Arkansas in the '50s and '60s. When I have heard my dad and grandparents talk about those events, it was about a lot more than wanting peace. Wanting equal treatment and protections isn't the same as wanting peace for everyone because the process often involves plenty of friction and conflict; even young kids can understand that message without having to go into the violence inflicted on blacks and Civil Rights supporters.
Already my email is filling up with notifications local happenings for Black History Month and, frankly, I am just done with it all. In fact, I think it's time to pull the plug on Black History Month. For someone who almost signed up to get a Ph.D. in African-American Studies, that is a hard thing to even consider — much less publicly share — but I really do think it's time we make February just be February and stick to Valentine's Day alone.
A special month to talk about black history, while possibly useful to school-aged youth (provided they get more than the "Cliff's Notes" version), does nothing for adults anymore, if it ever did. Most Americans, regardless of race, pay little attention to Black History Month (or any other themed month, frankly). Instead it's been hijacked by marketers who will take any angle to convince us to part with our dollars. Considering the collective economic state of blacks in this country where, by and large, most of them earn less than whites, do we really need to have our history marketed to us as an excuse to spend money we don't have? Even McDonald's tries to market its questionable food products to blacks, as if the history of my ancestors can be celebrated with a Big Mac and fries.
The other issue I have with Black History Month is that it often serves as a reason to avoid addressing American-American-related history and black contributions at other times of the year. I have noticed that the only time my daughter's school talks about issue related to blacks is during the month of February. (Except for a passing mention during the winter holidays, when it's assumed we all celebrate Kwanzaa.) The rest of the time, we're historically invisible. I have talked to my adult son, who didn't start school here but nonetheless spent a huge chunk of his elementary-school time in Maine, and his experience was comparable. Considering that 13 years separate my two kids and not much has changed, that is disturbing.