Student Column: How to Honor Black History Beyond February

As Black History month comes to a close, Black History is not ending with it. As a Black woman, I take pride in celebrating and learning more about my history. Each year I discover unsung heroes and difference makers I was never taught about in school. While I swell with pride, I am also overcome with frustration. You see, people participate in spreading awareness every February, but it seems to decline to almost nothing when the month ends. It is disheartening to witness, and I hope it will change. That is why I wanted to write this column.

Black history is American history. To truly honor the Black figures that contributed to this country and comprehend what African Americans endured in the past and still do today, I urge people to not stop caring about Black history when February comes to a close but continue your education and activism all year long.

After listening to an episode of the On the CASE podcast with special guest MU professor Dr. LaGarrett King, I was able to think of ways of how Black histories can be honored in this way. You may be wondering why I said “histories” and not “history.” According to Dr. King, Black history is not a singular concept. It is a broad arrangement of impactful moments that make up our culture. King believes that a problem with our society is that people don’t even know what Black histories are because of how they’ve been taught.

Black history month started as a weeklong event created by Carter G. Woodson as a way to ask the public to “extend their study of black history, not to create a new tradition,” says the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. According to Dr. King, this plan did not come to fruition.

“It was never intended to be the only time when Black history was taught and somehow in our society, we lost that goal, the main part of teaching Black history,” Dr. King said.

We as a country need to complete that goal. Beyond February, I hope to see institutions teaching Black histories in their entirety as Woodson originally intended. Instead of glossing over slavery, emancipation and the Civil Rights movement, it is important for people to know what life was like in Africa before the Transatlantic slave trade. We need to be made aware of the countless people, known and unknown, of all genders, sexualities and abilities that have left an impact. People also need to be educated on systemic oppression and how generations of Black people suffer from the pain that was forced upon their ancestors.

If the school system itself won’t do this, I hope that people are motivated to do research on their own. There are countless articles, books and documentaries detailing the Black histories that many people don’t know about. History classes in America hide a lot of the hard-hitting, uncomfortable material that portrays some of the Black experience. I say some because like Dr. King says, our history isn’t just a sob story.

“Teaching Black history as only oppression, what that does is add this victim narrative and Black folks have never been strictly victims. They have been victimized, but they’ve never been victims and they always fought against these institutional aspects of oppression,” Dr. King said.

Black culture is not full of just suffering. It is a truly beautiful culture that includes music, food, fashion and so much more. Black culture influenced music genres such as rock ‘n’ roll, country, jazz, house and techno. Inventions like the light bulb, ironing board, home security system and traffic light (to name a few) were all created by African Americans yet not many are aware of it. Our culture is so rich and full of successes and should be highlighted, not ignored.

Beyond February, I ask that people all over the country assist us in fighting against injustices like police brutality and racism in housing and healthcare. You can help in several ways. One way is donating and supporting Black organizations, charities and businesses. Another is becoming an ally, helping us fight for equality in America and hearing our stories. Fight for more Black representation in films and for our art to be equally rewarded as those produced by white people. However, I ask that people do this without speaking over us or for us. Stand by our side and support us in this battle towards true equity in America.

Beyond February, I hope to see more people honoring Black histories truly for what they are worth and not being silent when the month is over. It’s important to honor such a significant part of American history all year long and not just for 28 days ㄧ 29 if we’re lucky.