Fortson: Is Black History Month perpetuating racism instead of diminishing it?

Lyric Fortson

I have to start with a disclaimer: I am not black and I have never been a victim of racism.

The achievements of black people and their history in America should be recognized all the time, not just during the span of one month. This isn’t to say that we should forget the suffering they went through on behalf of white culture, but instead to recognize the past while not making present distinctions based too heavily on it.

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My perspectives on this issue weren’t formed from personal experiences, but rather personal observations. Of these observations, there are a few that I believe to be obvious, one of them being the fact that trying really, really hard not to be racist, is in fact, kind of racist.

I’m talking about those situations someone sucks up to someone that they don’t even know just because they’re black. When someone is so much sorrier when bumping into a black person than they’d ever be if that person had been white. When someone incessantly points out how “cool” a black person’s hair is. It’s watching slang or the way you act because you’re around your “black friend.”

I’ve seen these things happen a lot, especially in very white towns like Fort Collins. But I also see it happening on a larger scale. See, I feel like Black History Month is the white kid with a pocketful of daddy’s cash trying to over-compensate their inability to relate to the black kid by giving empty compliments. Except instead of all the time, it’s only for a month.

According to History.com, “Black History Month is an annual celebration of achievements by black Americans and a time for recognizing the central role of African Americans in U.S. history.”  

This sounds to me about as polite as a participation certificate and a pat on the back.

Maybe historically, it’s been appropriate. Black History Month evolved in the late 1960s from Negro History week and was first officially recognized in 1976 by President Gerald Ford. This was a huge step. But now, 40 years later, it’s time for another. 

 At this point in time, to hold a month that is solely in place to recognize the “achievements” of a race is to suggest that these achievements would not be recognized if the month was not in place. There isn’t a White History Month for a thousand reasons, one of them being that whites are so confident in their achievements that they believe they stand alone without the pedestal of public recognition. But not black people? If someone black achieves something great, that should speak for itself and need not to be reinforced by white culture. This month suggests that if the achievement is not applauded by white culture, it’s not worth the applause at all. It also suggests that it is only worth applause for the twenty-eight (rarely twenty-nine) days of February.

I find it also disturbing that Black History Month only “celebrates” black American history. This implies that black history is only accredited if it is black history within America, which we all know to be predominantly white. The roots of black history lie in not only America, but in countries all over the world that aren’t even thought about when we hear the term “Black History Month.”

The second part of the aforementioned definition states that “it is a time for recognizing the central role of African Americans in U.S. history.” This also strikes me as wildly ridiculous.

It would be easy to compare the situation to a big kid who beat up another kid in grade school. In time, the big kid realizes he screwed up and starts trying to compensate.  But that doesn’t make the other one feel better; in fact, it just reminds everyone of what the bully did to him when he was younger. It further separates the two, just in a juxtaposed way. Instead of establishing the fact that they’re different through violence, there is an establishment of their difference through being overly and questionably nice. But the fact that they’re different is being established nonetheless.

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We claim, as a society, that we want equality but even when it’s done out of positivity, pointing out differences between us, when it’s in a desperate act to prove acceptance, is not how equality will ever be achieved. We claim that we want mutual respect for all, but to draw a line separating black people and American history is degrading. Black history is, as previously stated, so much more than the history of blacks in America, but the black history in America is American history.

Black people shaped American history. The oppression, the abuse, the fight, the effort, the movement and the ability to rise above; these are things American history revolves around, and to narrow all of that down into one month is appalling. Not to mention the fact that whites have terrorized plenty of races over time, and if we want to take the route of dedicating a month to a race to try to make up for the past and promote equality, we would have more than every month of the year dedicated to a group — which wouldn’t be promoting equality at all, but instead further darkening the line that’s drawn between us all.

In a 2005 interview with 60 Minutes, Morgan Freeman was asked by Mike Wallace how we’re going to get rid of racism. Freeman, who freely admits to thinking Black History Month is “ridiculous,” replies simply: “Stop talking about it.”  

The past will always  be something to revere, but it should be done in better ways than this if we want to ever make significant changes for our future. Don’t look at an African-American and think ‘they are black;’ don’t look at a Caucasian and think ‘they are white;’ instead look at both together and think, ‘we are human.’ 

Collegian Columnist Lyric Fortson can be reached at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @lfortson927.