How not to celebrate Black History Month
By Adeoluwa Atayero, contributor
It is that time of the year again when people start allowing consumerism and capitalism to make them feel insecure about their romantic life, or lack thereof. In the midst of all the drama and lust that usually clouds the month of February, the month holds a special meaning for Africans and Black people all over the world. What is known today as Black History Month officially began in 1926 when Carter G. Woodson, an African American historian, initially proposed the idea. The proposal to commemorate the many achievements of African Americans and highlight the often discarded history of the Black race became what was known as Negro Week in 1926. The movement spread to Canada and was launched by the Ontario Black History Society and soon after officially became Black History Month in 1976.
Worthy of mention, however, is the fact that Black History Month was not officially recognized by the House of Commons until 1995. Jean Augustine, Parliament’s very first female Black member, called on a motion to have the month-long celebration made official. Senate’s official recognition of the month took place in 2008 when Senator Donald Oliver called for the motion. Over the years, the month has become an opportunity for Canadians to celebrate Black heritage and share stories of many unsung Black Canadian heroes. While many non-Black people with genuine intentions also look forward to partaking in the festivities, there are some cringe-worthy acts and practices that occur year after year that put a damper on the festivities.
At the very top of the list is acting like Black History Month is the only time when Black History is important. As cliché as it may sound, Black History is a year-round celebration and should not be restricted to only being celebrated one month in a year. This goes for people who give themselves a pat on their back for acknowledging their Black neighbours existence in February and go back to business as usual on March 1. It’s gross and not to mention, we are literally in 2020.
Some well-meaning teachers also believe that this is the time to take a breather from their regular curriculum and place extra focus on Black characters. Your curriculum should already have these stories incorporated into them. Giving your students the impression that Black History is not part of their regular lessons trivializes the month in more ways than you can imagine. Whatever discussions you have about Black History this month should exist naturally within the scope of things you already discuss in class and in the same fashion as you would discuss them. Black istory is Canadian history; this is a time to reflect on that, not to begin discussing it.
There is also a tendency in conversation to discuss Black History in terms of nostalgia and something that only exists in the context of the past. There are more black heroes that Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks – learn them. Black History has not ceased existing and neither have they paused in terms of accomplishments; a celebration of their history should explore them.
We live in an overly sensitive society where everything is polarized and blown out of proportion within seconds. However, one of the reasons people usually have a hard time navigating times like these without seeming condescending and out of touch is because they only wait for government-sanctioned celebrations to learn about something they should be learning year-round. It is important to be sensitive about being respectful without being overly patronizing. At the end of the day, do not forget that it is okay to ask questions because there will never be anything wrong with seeking more knowledge. Happy Black History Month, U of R and remember, if you feel the random urge to say any of these to your Black friends – “yo my G” or “what’s good sister” – don’t.