According to my visitor stats, someone reached this blog recently by using the search term “white history month.” Probably they did not put quotation marks around their query as, to my knowledge, I have never written explicitly about this topic.
Until now, that is.
In replicating this search for myself, I came upon this 2007 article from The Nation. I do not know how I missed it at the time of its initial publication, but it is worth pondering even today. A sample:
Whatever happened to James Blake? He is probably the most famous bus driver ever. And yet when he died at age 89 in March 2002, the few papers that bothered to note his passing in an obituary ran just a few hundred words of wire copy and moved on.
…Blake was the Montgomery driver who told a row of black passengers: “Y’all better make it light on yourselves and let me have those seats.” Rosa Parks was one of those passengers. She made her stand and kept her seat. The rest, as they say, is history.
Well, black history anyway. We know how African-Americans boycotted city transit for thirteen months until the segregationists caved in. We know how the boycott launched the career of a previously unheard-of preacher called Martin Luther King Jr. and made Parks an icon. In schools, bookstores and on TV there is an awful lot of talk about them in February. But nary a word about Mr. Blake. That’s because so much of Black History Month takes place in the passive voice. Leaders “get assassinated,” patrons “are refused” service, women “are ejected” from public transport. So the objects of racism are many but the subjects few. In removing the instigators, the historians remove the agency and, in the final reckoning, the historical responsibility.
There is no month when we get to talk about Blake; no opportunity to learn the fates of J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant, who murdered Emmett Till; no time set aside to keep track of Victoria Price and Ruby Bates, whose false accusations of rape against the Scottsboro Boys sent five innocent young black men to jail.
Wouldn’t everyone—particularly white people—benefit from becoming better acquainted with these histories? What we need, in short, is a White History Month…. [Emphasis added]
What do you think? How should information about the “other side” of these Black histories best be taught—if at all? Who would benefit most from this kind of inclusion, and who/how might it hurt?