This So-Called Post-Post-Racial Life

May 2, 2009

A Call for White History Month

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?


  1. Interesting viewpoint. After WWII the Allies executed over 1000 German Nazi War criminals. Other than Goring, and pehaps Speer – do you believe the majority of people can remember the names…

    Or do they remember the atrocities?

    Comment by btx3 — May 4, 2009 @ 3:14 pm

  2. So many times the idea for “White History Month” (or White Miss America, or White Magazine, etc.) is brought up by white people with no understanding of this country’s history of institutional racism, screeching about how unfair it is to have Black fill-in-the-blank, but no White fill-in-the-blank. Which is, of course, bullcrap because the rest of the year is basically White History Month, the mainstream magazines are basically white magazines, yada yada yada.

    This post is a different take though, and an interesting one. I personally don’t think a White History Month would be the most effective way to go about it, because it would be highjacked by those folks doing the aforementioned screeching, and used for other purposes. Maybe a White Accountability Month? White Face the Truth Month?

    Thing is, we white folks are already so resistant to hearing these things, and that’s with the textbooks sugarcoating and (ahem) whitewashing everything and presenting it all from a white viewpoint. (We’re bold pioneers, not murdering land-thiefs!) Can’t have white folks feeling uncomfortable in history class, now can we? Can’t we just move on?

    I’m thinking that if more white people were exposed to history’s accountability and truth mirror, maybe there’d be more understanding of institutional racism, maybe reparations wouldn’t seem like a crazy idea, maybe the systems and power structures would have evolved differently than they have.

    I’m also thinking it would be a cold day in hell before most white people would be willing to look into that mirror.

    Interesting post!

    Comment by more cowbell — May 4, 2009 @ 4:17 pm

  3. Great post again! I don’t need to write my feelings on this. I get tired of addressing questions like “Why is there not a white history month?” I’m sure you could see my frustration in responding to folks on The Ebony Experiment post at Blogher. 🙂

    Comment by Nordette aka Verite — May 8, 2009 @ 1:47 pm

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