The Problem With Black History Month

The Root DC's Clinton Yates says that the annual acknowledgment of African-American contributions hasn't lost its purpose, but it has lost its way. 

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A sit-in (Roberts Bruce/Photo Researchers/Getty Images)

The Root DC's Clinton Yates says that the annual acknowledgment of African-American contributions hasn't lost its purpose, but it has lost its way.

... And now that we've seen the United States's first president of color sworn in for the second time and our first black gymnast win the women's all-around competition at the Olympics, and with only a couple years until the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture opens, I wonder: Has Black History Month lost its purpose?

No, but it has lost its way.

Back in 2005, Morgan Freeman famously declared the month as "ridiculous" during an interview on "60 Minutes." Others have argued that, as a now-"post-racial" society, the month brings more division than integration. But the problem is not with the month, it's with the history. At this point, with all the television ads, cultural programming and so forth that I see, February might as well be labeled "Ancient Black Civil Rights History Month."

Black America's history is more than just Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Thurgood Marshall, Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr., obviously. But those are the names that I continually hear in the context of the celebration. I asked two educators what they thought about the month and how it could be updated.

Sharon Harley, associate professor of African American studies at the University of Maryland, thinks the move away from figures some might call "contributionists" is underway.

Read Clinton Yates' entire piece at the Washington Post.

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