Candidly speaking, the need for a black history month would not exist if the American halls of academe did not use systematic exploitation (past and present) to minimize exposure to African-American history.
The city school systems, colleges, universities, and the media are by-products of Eurocentric educational philosophies. These systems were designed to teach African-Americans to learn, believe, and accept European values, traditions, and habits, while at the same time promoting minimal integration of Black culture.
Dr. Carter G. Woodson in 1933 noted in “The Mis-Education of the Negro”:
It was well understood that if by the teaching of history the white man could be further assured of his superiority and the Negro could be made to feel that he had always been a failure and that the subjection of his will to some other race is necessary to freedman, then, would still be a slave.
Woodson, the father of Black History Week, which later became Black History Month, understood the ramifications and need for blacks to retake control of their own destiny.
Many people appreciate the value of sharing black history—the good and unfavorable aspects—and strongly support the ongoing study and celebration of black history every day of the year. They understand celebrating black history stretches well beyond just learning the history of a peoples: history plays a significant role in establishing a healthy mentality, molding one’s self-image and, ultimately, the society.
Yet, others, and surprisingly some African-Americans, are perfectly content with celebrating black history only one time per year and limiting the extent of knowledge shared. They see no further need beyond the month of February to examine the black culture or emphasize African and African-American contributions that unequivocally helped shape and redesign America’s landscape. Unfortunately, these proponents’ voices are seemingly growing louder.
Perhaps, African Americans who dismiss learning black history beyond the minute amount of African-American history taught in school do not realize or associate with a history beyond that. However, one must ask how can a black person—of any ethnic, social, or cultural up-bringing—disassociate themselves with the total scheme of black history—ranging from African history to African-American accounts?
A “root” is defined as the usually underground organ that lacks buds or leaves or nodes; absorbs water and mineral salts; usually it anchors the plant to the ground; the place where something begins, where it springs into being. “Roots” are the condition of belonging to a particular place or group by virtue of social or ethnic or cultural lineage. Whether speaking in terms of a plant or cultural lineage, if a thing is removed from its anchor, its life source, it will surely wither and die.
The very first generation of African-Americans born on American soil were born to captive Africans—the roots. An African-American attempting to disassociate him or herself from African history will not wither and die in a physical sense—at least not right away—but will surely possess a warped and unsubstantial perspective of self.
White America’s linkage is Eurocentric, which they so proudly relate and continue to build upon; Black America’s linkage is Afrocentric. African history exudes a rich heritage of innovation and inventiveness in the arts, agriculture, and medicine. Europeans took the rich African traditions and practices, interwove them into their own culture—treating them as their own, and sumptuously benefited. The greatest irony is that the very thing African-Americans attempt to push as far from them as possible—because the subject matter is not what they were taught by American school systems—is the very thing that the Anglo-Saxon race smartly embraced. They realized the value of African contributions; yet, some African descendants, in all of their educated glory, do not care to learn or associate themselves with these great people.
In large part, the African-American community is in a dire state of disrepair and remains unable to break the vicious cycle of destruction simply because many community members are subconsciously suffering from an age-old case of identity crisis (identity isolation, identity disarray—confusion, deficient self-awareness, or any combination of the aforementioned). Many present-day African-Americans do not know, understand, or accept their true origin, the foundation, thus, have only an incomplete, misperceived, or non-existent foundation to attempt to develop a healthy, dignified self-image. As a result, the African-American society suffers from high imprisonment rates; blatant disrespect for one another—calling one another by the n-word, degrading black women, rampant drug addictions, poor or lacking education, and impoverished neighborhoods.
With all said, one cannot completely blame African Americans for their current ideals and feelings of separation from the African heritage. Although African-Americans were not taught to disassociate with the African heritage, they also were not completely encouraged to research and learn about their roots; this was not a subject of interest or lengthy discussion in classrooms. However, one can explicitly attest that the decision to remain “lost” or separated is completely the black person’s choice.
Some wise African-Americans realize the mental manipulation perpetuated against African-Americans and are prepared to break the generational curse of self-destruction brought about by poor or inferior self images. An aged, yet highly relevant, proverb says that one must know where they “came from” to know where they are headed. For Black America to re-build and rectify our broken community, we must share the common foundation of pride, self-dignity, service, and the relentless spirit of our forefathers. By its very definition, the word “black” extends far beyond the boundaries of American history. We must cross the waters though books, in spirit, and even physically, to the great mother land to learn our lineage and reconnect to our foundation.
Only until we own a firm understanding, or awareness, of all of those elements that comprise self can we mold an unmistaken self-perspective as well as understanding of the world around us and its intricacies. Black History Month serves as a vehicle towards this end, but should not, and must not, be limited to just American history. As well, the study of black history should be performed year round. African-Americans can no longer wait to be spoon-fed black history—it has not happened over the past few hundred years, and it likely will not happen any time soon.
In the spirit of change, confidence, and self-sufficiency that has breathed breath back into our community, African Americans must independently pursue all avenues necessary to shed light on its obscure past and impart this knowledge on a daily basis. Allowing others to deceptively define who we are in their own time—once per year—and on their own accounts—sharing partial information with blacks—is totally unacceptable.
I challenge each African-American to begin researching his or her roots—reading all types of literature about different types of black people. I guarantee in your quest for knowledge, you will become a more sound, aware, and grounded individual. You will unearth unshakable compassion for your lost brethren, conviction for a worthy cause, and strength to endure when you are weakest—the onset of self awareness and moral character built on a true, comprehensive, unwavering foundation of black history. In the end, we will behold a more united and progressive African-American community and society.
H. Lewis Smith
H. Lewis Smith is the founder and president of UVCC, the United Voices for a Common Cause, Inc., and author of Bury that Sucka: A Scandalous Love Affair with the N-Word. Reprinted with the author’s permission from UVCC.