SHT: I think it means that we’ve let ourselves off the hook a little, especially as African Americans. We’ve allowed a situation to continue where we know there’s a lack of teaching of African-American history. Not for every school district, of course, but generally speaking, we know there is a lack of this history, but we’ve allowed Black History Month to be a sort of Band-Aid.
We should question what that means now. I think it also means that the celebration of black history at any given time is important to people, or [the month] wouldn’t still be around. I think it can actually be two things at once, whether one agrees with my previous statement or not.
TR: Why do you think the idea of ending it is so controversial?
SHT: There is a lot of attachment to Black History Month. I think it causes a strong reaction. At a time when people thought we had no history at all, that there was nothing to talk about, nothing worth writing down … out of that comes Negro History Week. Then it [becomes] Black History Month.
So there’s a lot of emotion, and there’s a lot of valid reasons to feel an attachment to Black History Month for what it is. I would just like to say that [ending] Black History Month is not counter to that mission; it’s just a continuation of the same struggle.
TR: In the documentary, there’s a scene where you have an epiphany about Black History Month while at Carter G. Woodson’s organization, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. Can you describe that epiphany for us?
SHT: I finally came to a place where I understand what it means to have a history and why that’s important. I have a clearer understanding of what Woodson’s original intentions were. I’ve come to the conclusion that having a Black History Month is a way to be recognized, of course.
But what we’re talking about is not ending it because it’s passé or irrelevant or anything like that. It’s because the ultimate goal is to not need a Black History Month. Black History Month is a tool to expose this history, but it wasn’t created to be the panacea. It’s sort of like giving someone a crutch for a certain amount of time. The goal is not to keep the crutch; the goal is to get rid of the crutch so you can walk.
TR: Do you think we’ve reached a point where we don’t need Black History Month?
SHT: The notion that we wait till there is “a point” is a little backward. I think that you create a time. There is no such thing as waiting for a time and then doing something. You create that time; you create the world you want to exist in.
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Anthonia Akitunde is a freelance writer living in Queens, N.Y. Her work has been featured in the New York Times, Fast Company and The Root DC. Follow her on Twitter.