Saturday, January 24, 2009

After Obama: Is Black History Month Still Necessary ?

After Obama: Is Black History Month Still Necessary ?

Paul Scott

Next month, Americans will celebrate what may very well be the last Black History Month. The annual observance, which was originally referred to as Negro History Week was first started by Dr. Carter G. Woodson in 1926. The purpose was to celebrate the contributions of African Americans to American history. However for many, the need for the knowledge of black history is no longer be relevant after January 20th Inauguration.

Since the last election, many are questioning whether it is still necessary to have a month set aside for one specific racial or ethnic group when supposedly a black president signifies that we are truly one America. Therefore, some are seeing Black History Month as a case of living in the past; not recognizing the uniqueness of the African American experience. The deeper we go into the Barack Obama presidency, the harder it will be to convince many Americans that bringing up the pains of the past will be beneficial to this society as a whole.

If we are not careful the study and appreciation of black history, itself will become history.For many white Americans the past is something that they would rather forget when it comes to black people. Who could blame them as the stories of black men getting lynched, black women being raped and black children getting blown up while they attended church services do not make for good dinner table conversations nor bedtime stories. So for them the eradication of Black History Month would be a way to ease their white guilt.

Unfortunately, there are many blacks, as well, who would like to bid Black History Month farewell. For some African Americans black history has been seen as a stumbling block; just another barrier that has kept them from enjoying their piece of the American pie. Many black people strive there whole lives to detach the word "African" from "African American."

The problem of having to be black and American,simultaneously, has plagued African Americans since the Emancipation Proclamation. It is a paradox that WEB Dubois described as "a double consciousness" that black folks had to have in order to survive in a white dominated society.

During the early 20th century, the issue was bitterly debated by those who wanted inclusion into American society like Dubois and his Talented 10th and those who wanted separation like Marcus Garvey and his followers.

Later, during the 60's and early 70's there was a constant ideological war between the Civil Rights activists and the Black Power activists that personified itself in the forms of Dr. Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. Dr. King believed in a dream where all Americans would be treated as equals and Malcolm X envisioned a nightmare where African Americans would forever be treated as second class citizens.

However, since the election of Obama it seems that those who wanted to be totally immersed in Americana have ,at least for the moment ,won the argument.So is the study of black culture still needed when the color barrier is being perceived as a thing of the past?

We, as African Americans, are in real danger in 2009 of losing our "blackness." We are on the verge of becoming what black historian St. Clair Drake referred to as a "Creole" culture; neither totally black nor totally white. Or to borrow a term from the newly elected president, a culture of "mutts."

Black History Month is still needed but the concept must be upgraded to meet the changing needs of the African American community if it is to remain relevant.

First, Black History Month must find a way to capture the imagination of the young Hip Hop generation. Today many African American youth who can quote the lyrics of any rap artist are totally clueless when it comes to the contributions that their ancestors made to society. Therefore the entertainment industry has made Hip Hop into a pseudo culture that can not trace its origins prior to the early 80's. Unfortunately many young people cannot discern the difference between black culture and Hip Hop. This is also do to the failure of school systems to make the teaching of black history a priority. Educators must see the importance of teaching black youth about their history year round. With the rich legacy of African people it is an insult to try to cram it all in during the shortest month of the year.

Secondly, Black History has depended too heavily on white corporations to tell the story of the African American experience. These corporations have used black history month more as a marketing scheme to get the black dollar than an earnest attempt to share the beauty of blackness with the world. Black people are the only people who depend on other races to tell their story in a truthful manner. African Americans must develop a "black history bailout" to save our history from going bankrupt at the hands of white corporations.

Finally, Black History Month must become what it was really never allowed to be; a celebration of black history not just African American History. We are constantly fed the false notion that African people had no history before they were brought to the West on slave ships. Therefore what is posing as Black History has been merely a history of emancipated slaves.

Contrary, to growing popular opinion, Black History Month is needed now more than ever as our social stability depends on it. As Marcus Garvey once said "a people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots."

Paul Scott , the "Hip Hop Truth Minista" writes for No Warning Shots He can be reached at (919) 451-8283 or