Editorial: We must go beyond just Black History Month

Why we need to support the Black community during this month and through the entire year

Editorial Board

Black History Month has begun, and while it is incredibly important to dedicate an entire month solely on Black history and excellence, that doesn’t mean we ignore the topics the rest of the year.  

Firstly, let’s talk about why Black History Month matters. In 1926, historian Carter G. Woodson created a week dedicated to learning about Black history within the American public education system. Eventually that evolved into a month of celebration and education. President Gerald Ford officially recognized the month in 1976, encouraging Americans to “seize the opportunity to honour the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” The month is important because it focuses on spreading awareness about Black history—including slavery, segregation and racism—and it highlights the achievements of Black people.

Every time Black History Month rolls around, it comes with a different theme to address; 2022’s theme is Black Health and Wellness, which is meant to acknowledge “the legacy of not only Black scholars and medical practitioners in Western medicine, but also other ways of knowing (e.g., birthworkers, doulas, midwives, naturopaths, herbalists, etc.) throughout the African Diaspora.”

The Association for the Study of African American Life and History states that “the intention has never been to dictate or limit the exploration of the Black experience, but to bring to the public’s attention important developments that merit emphasis.” It’s important for us, as allies, to note just how powerful a platform Black History Month is. Due to the month’s public nature, it is effortless to educate ourselves about Black history and celebrate the community. During this time, learning can be done easily through exposing oneself to educational posts, videos or literature, through supporting Black creators and business owners and so much more.

However, this isn’t a month to act performatively. For example, if you have a large social media platform revolving around books, don’t just recommend books by Black authors and never read them. Similarly, don’t read Black books only during this month and not during the rest of the year. Additionally, when it comes to consuming Black-focused content, it is important to keep in mind that there is more out there than just portrayals of Black trauma. While, yes, that type of entertainment is meant to help educate allies, the Black community also has a rich cultural history, and their traditions and joy are worthy of being celebrated as well.

However, let’s not forget that teaching Black history is necessary beyond just a single month. An example of how this can be furthered is through the integration of critical race theory (CRT) into our education system. CRT goes beyond individual racism and focuses on the systems in place that perpetuate racism and ignorance. According to the American Bar Association, CRT “exposes the ways that racism is often cloaked in terminology regarding ‘mainstream,’ ‘normal’ or ‘traditional’ values or ‘neutral’ policies, principles or practices.” Further, “CRT can be an approach used to theorize, examine and challenge the ways [in] which race and racism implicitly and explicitly impact social structures, practices and discourses.”

Critical race theory is essential to evolve our education system, yet state governors are trying to ban CRT and instill ridiculous initiatives to prevent history from being taught—or rather preserve a censored, white-washed version of history—within schools. The new governor of Virginia recently created a tip line for parents to report CRT-related content being taught in public schools, while Florida’s governor backed a bill that “would prohibit Florida’s public schools and private businesses from making people feel ‘discomfort’ or ‘guilt’ based on their race, sex or national origin.” It is absurd and outrageous that beneficial and factual education for our youth is being debated all because some white people are uncomfortable with acknowledging the fact that race has indeed impacted every aspect of society throughout American history, reinforcing the systemic discrimination against people of color every step of the way. 

Black people deserve not just a time to focus on celebrating themselves but also the decency from other communities to listen and learn. Again, Black history is something that should be taught all year round. Unfortunately, that’s not the case, with educational systems banning critical race theory and quashing any attempt to reckon with our nation’s racial legacy. In order to counter such efforts, it is even more important to be good allies. Recognize internal biases, work to understand and undo them, consume content from Black creators or maybe even take an African American Studies class at Case Western Reserve University—CWRU should also offer more such courses. 

We live in a society where Eurocentric history and content is taught as the norm, so it is crucial to support the Black community by giving a platform to Black creators, exposing ourselves to Black-focused content and recognizing the central importance of Black experiences in our teachings of American history—not only during Black History Month but all year round. Only then can we truly become a more equitable and tolerant society.