By: Alex M.
It’s the most magical time of the year…. Well, maybe not but Black History Month is pretty awesome and extremely important to emphasize in both schools and daily life.
So the basics: Black History Month (BHM) is officially observed in most of North America in February, and the United Kingdom observes this month in October, (so don’t make fun of your friends across the pond on either side if they say they’re celebrating BHM on dates that seem incorrect to you). BHM originally was created in 1926 as a single week in February, by Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. Carter G. Woodson originally chose February because the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln and Fredrick Douglas fell in that month. While it may now sound strange that the month’s dates were chosen due to the birth of a man who actually didn’t believe in PoC equality and advocated colonization, (Lincoln) it made sense in the context of the times. He was in some ways shitty, but not as incredibly shitty as many people in power.
The annual week snowballed in popularity, thanks to Woodson’s amazing community organizing and outreach. Finally in 1969, the week’s significance to core school curriculum was so undisputable that Kent State PoC student leaders felt confident in making a bid for an entire month dedicated to Black History. Kent State started the first BHM a year later in 1970. In 1976, President Gerald Ford officially recognized the month and indicated that it would now be government policy to support and honor this month. Props, President Ford. Later in 1987, the United Kingdom got on board, thanks to the work of the Greater London Council led by Ghanaian Analyst Akyaaba Addai-Sebo. Props, Mr. Addai-Sebo.
Today, BHM is widely accepted across North America. However, it has been critiqued for mythologizing PoC heroes and separating Black History from its context and isolating it as an anomaly and separating it from the flow of history that we participate in today. However you look at it, the intent and focus of BHM is crucial and should it be revoked (doubtful) something else as equally inclusive and effective would and should take its place.
You also ask: “Why isn’t there a White History Month?
Because there are 12 of those, scrub. Nico Lang’s piece for Thought Catalog answers just this:
…Every month is their month. To quote Tim Wise, they just have confusing names like March, April and May. They have holidays that celebrate their monogamous relationships, the Irish, veterans, the birth of the nation and whitewashing Native American genocide. (We even have two devoted to the latter, because America’s a “go big or go home” kind of place.)
In all of these instances, the framing is predominantly white, heterosexual and male. Great White Men are the founders of our nation, the conquerors of the continent and even on Christmas, they dress up in jolly red suits and bring our presents. We have one nationally celebrated holiday for black remembrance — Martin Luther King Jr. Day (or MLK Day) — and neither Arizona nor DePaul bother to recognize it.
This shows just how engrained whites are into our nation’s rituals and why it’s bedlam for many to suggest otherwise we change the status quo and celebrate others. When we think of our sports heroes, we go to Joe Namath, Babe Ruth and Joe Dimaggio, just as our history books are dominated by our Lincolns, Jeffersons and Washingtons, rather than Crispus Attacks and Frederick Douglass, who are honored as footnotes. In the Lincoln movie, screenwriter Tony Kushner considered Douglass so unimportant to our popular history of abolition that he left him out together. Like in The Help, white people solve racism, and black people get to thank them for it — to smile and nod while someone else gets their Oscar.
But Black History Month still gets overshadowed and compartmentalized out of context during its own frickfracking month. This month is crucial to understanding the history of the United States as a whole, and its significance to all of our stories cannot be overstated enough. You can’t understand a story if whole sections and characters are left out. Black History is what has been left out or marginalized in history books, and is crucial to the history of other movements and cultures.
Representation matters. Being connected to your past in a way that legitimatizes it matters. It is a curious and cold thing to be severed from your ancestors and stories by lack of information and ultimately silence as a tool to promote hegemony. Knowledge is power, and by gaining knowledge of a true portrait of North America (both good and unbearably shitty) you gain power to change things. Don’t let anyone tell you that your history doesn’t matter because it doesn’t look like the main narrative, and don’t let anyone deny you access and recognition of your heritage because it doesn’t match what hegemonic textbook makers and media producers want you to think. Knowledge is power- that is why Black History Month matters and why its goals should continue all of the 11 other months in the year.
In fourteen hundred ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.
Throughout the years his legend grew; too bad the BS isn’t true.
Columbus Day is a designated holiday in many parts of the world, intended to celebrate the anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s so-called “discovery” of the Americas. Though the voyage had been informally recognized for years, it wasn’t until 1906 that it became an official state holiday in Colorado, and by 1937, a federal holiday in the United States. In the period between 1917 and 1928, many Latin American countries also began observing the holiday under a different name— Día de la Raza.
While the significance of this holiday is lost on some, for years, groups have stood in fierce opposition of remembering a man whose evil is readily ignored in exchange for an extra day off every year.
Christopher Columbus, as framed by U.S. history textbooks, is the Italian-born explorer that “discovered the New World” (aka America). Having originally set sail on a Spain-sponsored trip with a crew of close to 90 aboard three vessels we undoubtedly all know by name, the expert navigator believed himself to be en-route to India. The day we celebrate as his biggest accomplishment was in reality the result of folly and misdirection. In 1492, not only was Columbus entirely unaware he hadn’t actually ended up where he intended, his ships also shored up on what is today the Bahamas archipelago—nowhere near the continental mass of the Americas he is so widely believed to have stumbled upon. In subsequent trips, he made it to present-day Cuba and the island of Hispaniola. Still oblivious, still wrong.
If terrible navigation skills were all the guy had going against him, there may still be grounds to contest his having his own holiday, but surely not with the emotion and fervor with which it’s done today. Unfortunately, Christopher Columbus did a lot more than mistakenly land on Caribbean soil and ignorantly label the indigenous people “Indians.”
There are no positives in his real contributions to history, which lie in the atrocity of a seemingly endless list of crimes committed by him and his men against the longstanding inhabitants of the lands he “discovered”—torture, rape, pillaging, enslavement, abduction, dismemberment, and murder. Even the natives who escaped capture were eventually worn down by European illness and disease, for which they had no prior exposure or resistance.
Population estimates for the indigenous people living on the lands where Columbus staked his claim fluctuate between 3 and 8.5 million. In any case, these numbers are believed to have been reduced to slightly over 100,000 in less than 20 years. The march towards extinction so accelerated, an entire civilization ceased to exist by 1550.
And it doesn’t stop there. The ripple effects of Columbus’s actions continue through history for hundreds of years. In enslaving natives and shipping them to Europe, he laid the very foundation for the transatlantic slave trade. Having destroyed the great majority of the populations living on the islands, it wasn’t long before Africa became the new source for enslaved labor.
For many people of color, especially Native Americans, Columbus Day is a yearly reminder of the nightmares inflicted on the indigenous people. It’s a commemoration of exploitation, torture, and needless death; a celebration of the anniversary of the beginning of the end.
Many have suggested, as a way to stop the annual reopening of deep-seated wounds, that Columbus Day be replaced with Native American or Indigenous People’s Day—a holiday to promote Native American culture and history.
A brief timeline of Columbus’s crimes against humanity via Daily Kos.
Watch Benjamin Bratt recount the horrors suffered by the indigenous people, as witnessed and chronicled by historian Bartolome de las Casas.
Rallies, protests, and counter-celebrations are happening all over the country this weekend. Listed below are a few we’ve found:
If you aren’t near any of these cities, try searching “Anti-Columbus,” “Indigenous People’s Day” or other related keywords for events happening in your area.