W. Carlton Weddington: We Still Need Black History Month

The word History comes from the Greek word – historia, meaning knowledge acquired by investigation, it is the study of the human past; a chronological record of significant events (as affecting a nation or institution) often including an explanation of their causes.

Each February, we celebrate and take time out to acknowledge the contributions that individuals and organizations of the African Diaspora made not only to and within the United States of America but around the World. Black History Month is celebrated annually in the United States (US) and Canada in February and the United Kingdom in the month of October. Historian Carter G. Woodson founded “Negro History Week” in 1926, to honor two Americans who greatly influenced the lives and social condition of African-Americans: former President Abraham Lincoln and abolitionist former slave Frederick Douglass. Woodson chose the second week of February because it marked their birthdays.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau there are more than 41 million black residents in the United States, including those of more than one race. They make up 13.5 percent of the U.S. population.

In 2009, the inauguration of Barack Obama, America’s first African-American President, lent Black History a special significance because President Obama took the Oath of Office on January 20, the day after Americans honored the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with a Federal holiday and National day of service. In his inaugural address, Obama acknowledged the historical importance of a moment in which “a man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred Oath.”

Black History Month sparks an annual debate about the continued usefulness and fairness of a month dedicated to the history of one race. Critics have suggested that Black History is irrelevant because it has degenerated into a shallow ritual and serves to undermine that “Black History” is “American History”. Some believe Black History Month should focus on positive as well as negative aspects of the black experience. “Certainly, struggle has been an ongoing theme in our history from the very beginning. However, we were not slaves prior to being captured in Africa — and while slavery was part of our experience for 250 years, we have a hundred-and-some years in freedom that we also need to deal with.”

I would argue that the investigation and the study of our past is still relevant and required today. Since the miraculous and stunning election of Donald J. Trump to the Presidency of the United States, people have shown their true colors and miss-education about the many people, their ethnicity and culture that make up our great nation. Specifically we look at just 2 individuals Trump has selected to lead departments of the federal government with little to know understanding of the people whose lives will be affected by their decisions. Culture competency is of the utmost importance but is not evident in their first public statements regarding African-Americans. Just this past Black History month, Betsy DeVos showed her lack of competence and understanding by stating, “HBCUs are real pioneers when it comes to school choice. They are living proof that when more options are provided to students, they are afforded greater access and greater quality.” Clearly the US Secretary of Education is “devoid” of understanding that blatant racism, Jim Crow in the South and segregation were the reasons Historically Black Colleges and Universities were founded to provide education to black and minority students otherwise barred. In his first official address to his Housing and Urban Development staff as Secretary, Ben Carson did the unconscionable. He said “…That’s what America is about. A land of dreams and opportunity. There were other immigrants who came here in the bottom of slave ships, worked even longer, even harder for less. But they too, had a dream that one day their sons, daughters, grandsons, granddaughters, great-grandsons, great-granddaughters might pursue prosperity and happiness in this land.” Seriously? This is unacceptable, Africans were ripped from their families and brought to this country in chains under the most deplorable of conditions. The idea that these men, woman and children came to the Americas upon their own freewill and accord as immigrants is dumbfounding. Both DeVos and Carson were absolutely wrong in their interpretation and understanding of African-American history and shines light on the continued need for education of culture and conversation about a group of people that have help make America great. “In Trump world, their reality never matches our truth and history is re-written to justify falsehoods and lies becoming nothing more than ‘his’ story.”

Some of the most powerful, culturally rich nations and people on this earth have one thing in common. They think of themselves and their cultures as being of the utmost importance. You will find this to be evident among Anglo-Americans, Hispanics, Chinese, Arabs, Japanese, Europeans, Jews, Nigerians, East Indians and many others. The desire to know one’s history and preserve one’s culture is strong among many nationalities and peoples. In fact, people around the world have gone to war in order to preserve their language, culture and identity. Knowing this fact, we must remind ourselves of the importance as Blacks in America to continue the cultural renaissance began in the sixties by returning to the good aspects of Black culture, learning the history of Black cultures and civilizations in the Americas, Africa and around the world and using the preservation and application of cultural assets as a way to instill pride and continuity into Black people and all Americans.

“According to African-American historian John Henrik Clarke, in order to control a people, you must first control what they think about themselves and how they regard their history and culture. And when they feel ashamed of their culture and their history, prison chains are not necessary. This statement is a true assessment of what is going on in the black community. Many generations of African-Americans have been poisoned with self-hatred as a result years of slave mentality programming. Some of us have forgotten about the blood, sweat, and tears of Africans who were brought to this country against their will and whose blood still runs deeply in our veins.” The most tragic consequence of this mentality is that many African-American children are growing up today complacently ignorant about their heritage, not caring about anything other than the latest pair of Air Jordan’s and the new hot rap single.”

That is why it is so important to know one’s heritage and for our leaders down to our children to have a reasonable understanding from whence they and we come.

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