I ran a Shame Day post a while back about “Black History” (or the whitewashed version that gets fed to us), and in it, I referenced this clip with Morgan Freeman:
I promised to shortly address Mr. Freeman’s comments-
-and promptly forgot about it for two years.
Well overdue, here’s why we desperately need Black History, and why we simply don’t.
Bear with me here.
Because We Don’t Have Real History
Again, we’re fed an overwhelmingly whitewashed and simplistic version of history. Lincoln benevolently freed the slaves and then, roughly 100 years later, MLK Jr. led a series of peaceful protests which ended segregation, and everybody lived happily ever after.
In reality, folks largely lost faith in peaceful protest as the 60s wore on, turning instead to self-defense, nationalism, revolution, and other techniques.
Figures who did have tremendous influences on Black life wound up getting framed in textbooks as tragic villains (see Malcolm X) or left out of the picture entirely (see Huey P. Newton, Stokey Carmichael, Angela Davis, etc.)
Because It’s Our History
A common criticism is that Black History Month is about the celebration of a single race, rather than all of us. I’d say that’s all about how you define your heritage. If you think about your history solely in terms of your racial or ethnic heritage, then yeah, you’d be right.
Only that’s a stupid way to do things.
Do you want to define your heritage in terms of folks sharing a genetic similarity to you, or in terms of great and noble deeds and ideals? I mean, we all claim to have “founding fathers”- I don’t see anyone get bent out of shape because you’re not related to Jefferson.
Put simply, I don’t have an issue with taking some time to reflect and focus on a specific and highly formative chapter of American history.
Because It’s Still Happening (And It Ain’t Pretty)
Part of the issue with the whitewashed narrative that usually gets pushed is that Black history has somehow “concluded” with the end of segregation. And the problem is that it’s obviously not true- we’re still struggling with race, as the Brown and Garner cases so tragically proved last year. The fundamental issues facing Black Americans (disproportionate incarceration, lingering bigotry, poverty, etc.) need to be addressed, and taking a month to examine Black history is beneficial to all of us.
And that leads me to my final point…
Because What We Have Now Is A Piss Poor Substitute
If there’s a criticism to be had here, it’s that. Our current Black History Month isn’t anything like what I’ve mentioned above. It’s not designed for justice, it’s designed for sympathy– heck, maybe even pity. What we have right now is a consolation prize- celebrating noncontroversial, non-threatening figures.
As with a lot of liberal institutions, this is about assuaging guilt, not correcting injustice. And it’s correction that should be the purpose of this month, a restoration of the intended order of things.
Folks criticize this month as actually propagating racism, placing Black figures on a pedestal (go anywhere on the internet, and you’ll find someone whining “where’s White history month?”). And as much as those folks tend to be bitter bigots themselves, the principle is actually solid. As long as Black history month gets treated as an apology rather than a step towards restoring the natural order we’re going to have this pointless division.
Morgan Freeman is right.
Just for the wrong reasons.