Is Black History Month Still Necessary?

As I speak around the country on Beyond the Suffering: Embracing the Legacy of African American Soul Care and Spiritual Direction, I’m frequently asked, “What do you think about Black History Month?” The question comes from my African American friends, many of whom are divided on the issue. Some think Black History Month is a net positive for African Americans, while others believe it is a net negative. The question also comes from my non-African American friends, who are equally split, and for various reasons. Having outlined The History of Black History Month now it’s time to discuss Is Black History Month Still Necessary? 

Is Morgan Freeman Right?

Morgan Freeman, a long-time critic of the holiday, strongly believes that Black History Month is not just unnecessary but “ridiculous.” According to Freeman in a December 2005, 60 Minutes interview, Black history should not be relegated to a month. In fact, argues Freeman, Black history, after all, is American history. 

Jessica McElrath asks it this way, “Has African American history now converged with American history, and, therefore, should the celebration be eliminated?”

Some believe that this is the case. According to Rochelle Riley, yes, the time has come to end Black History Month. Riley asserts that Black history is American history. So, suggests Riley, it’s time to stop celebrating, learning, and being American separately. It’s time to be an America where learning about Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians is part of school curriculums. 

Jesse Washington, AP National Writer, asks the question with his title, “Time to End Black History Month?” He opens with the follow-up question, “Should Black History Month itself fade into history?”

Many people, both Whites and Blacks, argue that Black history should be incorporated into year-round education. Washington quotes Stephen Donovan, a 41-year-old lawyer, saying, “If Obama’s election means anything, it means that African American history IS American history and should be remembered and recognized every day of the year.” 

Donovan believes that ending “paternalistic” observations like Black History Month would lead to not “only a reduction in racism, but Whites more ready, willing, and able to celebrate our differences and enjoy our traditions without feeling the strain of guilt that stifles frank dialogue and acceptance across cultures?” 

What Does Our President Think?

Other portions of Washington’s article support another side of the story: the continued need for Black History Month. President Obama, like all his predecessors since the 1970s, believes Black History Month should continue. He lauded “National African American History Month” calling upon “public officials, educators, librarians, and all people of the United States to observe this month with appropriate ceremonies, activities, and programs that raise awareness and appreciation of African American history.” 

Daryl Scott, Chairman of the history department at Howard University believes Black History Month is still needed to solidify and build upon America’s racial gains. “To know about the people who make up society is to make a better society. A multiracial, multiethnic society has to work at its relationships, just like you have to work at your marriage.” 

“I don’t see it going away,” said Spencer Crew, a history professor at George Mason University, adding that a diverse year-round history curriculum can still be augmented in depth during Black History Month. “There’s a Women’s History Month,” Crew said. “No one would argue that we don’t need to be reminded of women who have done things that are important.” 

Jessica McElrath surmises that most historians and African Americans believe that Black History Month remains necessary. According to McElrath, Black History Month is the only time of the year when Black history is recognized in many schools. She argues that schools often focus on White history year round, and, therefore, Black History Month is a necessary celebration. 

Are We Fair and Balanced Yet?

Much of the discussion about whether Black History Month is still necessary relates to whether “main stream” history is accurately covering Black history year-round. My specialty is Black Church history, so I’ll speak to that. Evangelical Black Church history is not being fairly covered year round…not even close. 

As Karole Edwards and I researched the history of African American soul care and spiritual direction, we found hundreds of primary sources for Black Church history from 1500-1900 (our time-frame). However, when we looked in secondary sources written today about American Church history, we found an embarrassing dearth of focus on women and minorities. Even in 2011, most general texts on American Church history continue to focus on dead White guys

I’m not against the dead White guys. One day I will be one of them! I wrote my Ph.D. dissertation on one of them: Martin Luther. 

I’m simply of the conviction that fair and balanced history is still not being written. Just today I received the following testimonial to this fact. 

“I hold an MA in biblical counseling from an Evangelical seminary. I also did coursework in ethics related to race relations. I  ordered your book Beyond the Suffering and was deeply touched by it. It is a book that I longed for while in seminary as the majority of my textbooks were from an Anglo-American perspective.” 

Others agree. As I present around the country on Heroes of the Black Church, participants are angry. In their Evangelical Bible colleges, Christian liberal arts colleges, and seminaries, they’re taking Church history courses and hearing nothingabout Black Church history, especially Evangelical Black Church history. I’m being told that even Historically Black Colleges and Universities are not teaching about Evangelical Black Church history. 

I always find it interesting when someone says, “Let’s just read about good people of all races and not focus on just one race!” I like to follow-up with the question, “So tell me the most recent book you’ve read, especially the most recent American Church history book that talked about anyone other than dead White guys…”

Or, I’ll ask, “So tell me some great heroes of the faith who are from a culture different from yours…” 

Unfortunately, 99% of people can’t provide an answer. In theory, we say we want to read about all people of all cultures. In reality, most general studies books on American Church history are only about the dead White guys. And most of us read only about people who are like us. 

What Does God’s Word Say?

We’ll celebrate unity in diversity in heaven for all eternity according to Revelation 7:9-10. God’s end game is not one homogenous group, but unity in diversity. Such unity in diversity reflects God. Our Trinitarian God is Three-in-One: unity in diversity. 

Even if racism, prejudice, and imbalanced awareness were wiped from the face of the earth, the Bible still commands us to value diversity throughout eternity. The end of racism would not be the end of diversity. It would be the beginning of unity in diversity. There’s a world of difference. 

While people may debate whether “race” is culturally-constructed, the Bible is clear that culture is God-constructed and approved. God does not want us to be “culture-blind.” He wants us to recognize, appreciate, and celebrate our differences in biblical unity. 

What Should We Do Now?

Ideally, life could and should be both/and. We could have books that highlight the unique accomplishments of various cultural groups—celebrating their legacy. And, we could have books that integrate in a fair and balanced way the contributions of all cultural groups. 

The same could be true of “history months.” We could have months celebrating specific cultural groups. And, we could and should, year-round, celebrate the contributions of all cultural groups. 

Given the clearly documented lack of past and current historical balance (dead White guys getting all the press and other cultures and women given little honor), it is still necessary to highlight “minority cultures” and women in special months, books, etc. We can do this while also working toward integrating men and women, and people of all cultures, into year-round study and into overview books. 

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