Once a year, Black History Month rolls around and debate ensues about whether we still need to observe it. In my mind, this debate is frivolous because the reasons that historian Carter G. Woodson, a graduate of Harvard College and the University of Chicago, worked diligently to establish Negro History Month in 1926 still exist today.
Communicating the importance of the role of people of African descent in the history of this country, making the inclusion of black history a priority in our educational curricula and celebrating all facets of black culture were necessary then and are necessary now. While the observance is merely a label for some people, it means something to many people of all racial backgrounds in this country.
One has only to look at The Root’s Young Futurists profiles, 7 Black Blogs to Read During Fashion Week or 20 Tech Game Changers in Black History to understand the importance of the month. Black voices that typically reside on the margins of mainstream society are brought to the center with the same level of importance and appreciation that majority groups enjoy throughout the year.
Before you start with the hate mail, people of African descent are more than athletes and entertainers, so while we are hyper-visible in those spaces, we are next to invisible in other spaces, like science and technology, which is why these initiatives matter.
Having said that, I must say that Black History Month can be murder on black people. My colleagues and I spend the entire month in a light jog, going from event to event and making sure that we catch as much of the programming as we can in person, not to mention the amazing TV programming.
Sometimes we feel held hostage because all of this wonderful cultural, academic and historic programming is rolled out during one month instead of being dispersed throughout the year. Instead of being able to participate in high-quality activities and events year-round that focus on black culture, many of us literally go from sunup to sundown making sure that we are a part of these programs in some way, shape or form.
Don’t get me wrong. I live in Baltimore, a black city with plenty of black cultural and historical programming throughout the year — and no, I’m not talking about The Wire! It’s just that Black History Month is such an important event in our lives that it’s almost as if, unless we do participate to the fullest extent possible, these events will go away, or other people (including our youths) will not understand the importance of the month and why it exists.
In the same way that Woodson led by example by embracing African-American history and culture, academics and scholars of African descent must embrace this month, reinforcing the importance of these activities in the lives of all Americans. And between the lectures, museum exhibits, concerts, community-service programs and actual speeches that we give or receive at various locations, Black History Month can be murder on black folks invested in the continued existence of the observance.
This is not a complaint — merely an observation that because there is still so much to learn about people of African descent in this country, it can be an all-consuming experience. The pace of keeping up with all of these events can run you ragged, but it is worth it.
While it would be nice to have some of these activities spread out more evenly throughout the year, the large scope of the possibilities can be exciting and deeply rewarding. Besides, if trailblazers like Woodson could work from sunup to sundown to bring this important proclamation into existence, then we can do the same to make sure it stays here.
Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D., is editor-at-large for The Root. Follow her on Twitter.