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Why African American History Month still matters in 2017

| Dr. Selika Ducksworth-Lawton

When asked why we need African American History Month, I immediately think of the empowerment of Richard Spencer, the neo-Nazi leader, and the mainstreaming of his thought.

We have organized people today, in 2017, who are questioning the very right of African Americans to exist, the ability of African Americans to achieve, and the rights of African Americans to citizenship.

Osita Nwanevu, in this 2017 article, sums up the problem with Spencer and his supporters. 

“Spencer’s intellectualism does little to hide the centrality of bigotry to his own worldview and the views of those he publishes. His previous site, Alternative Right, once ran an essay called  “Is Black Genocide Right?” “Instead of asking how we can make reparations for slavery, colonialism, and Apartheid or how we can equalize academic scores and incomes,” Colin Liddell wrote, “we should instead be asking questions like, ‘Does human civilization actually need the Black race?’ ‘Is Black genocide right?’ and, if it is, ‘What would be the best and easiest way to dispose of them?’ "[1]

African American History Month, clearly, publicly and unflinchingly, defends the humanity, citizenship and rights of African Americans and our multiracial allies.

It serves not just African Americans, but all Americans.

It outlines how entitled supremacists have punished African American achievement, threatened African American physical safety and have pushed a false “black degeneracy” model that is not, and never was, real.

It answers the false narratives of the defenders of Jim Crow and slavery, defenders who still exist today.

Malcolm X said, “History is a people's memory, and without a memory, man is demoted to the lower animals.” [2]

We still need African American History Month because people like Richard Spencer are still here and are gaining power as a new generation forgets our history, and how that history relates to our modern life.

History, and the ability to learn from history, is what makes us human.

African American history is America’s history.

Our ability to learn from it, not repeat it, and to live up to the promise of our beloved Constitution all fall on understanding an accurate history.

We will not improve race relations, and we will be vulnerable to outside enemies, as long as our people grow up with elementary and secondary school histories that ignore African American humanity and achievement; minimize the horrors of slavery and colonialism (King Leopold of Belgium’s tortures in the Congo, slavery tortures, the trade in flesh for the legalized rape and pleasure of planters [3]); refer to slavery and African American oppression with no discussion of resistance, achievement, excellence or the multiracial nature of that resistance; and ignore the illegal terror and corruption used to punish African American success and resistance.

We need to celebrate that resistance, directly through the civil rights movement and indirectly through African American achievement.

To heal and to bridge our racial gaps, we must teach the histories that have been silenced.

Shouldn’t we teach African American history every month, and not just in February?

Yes … but we don’t.

Many students have never had any history of slavery, Jim Crow or civil rights until they take an African American history class in college. It is rarely taught in high school or middle school.

African American History Month is a historian’s one time a year to reach the people who think history is not important, history does not matter or who never were taught accurate history about African Americans.

It is the one time that the media helps educators to provide information that starts to bridge the racial gaps in the U.S.

As we begin this process of infusing diverse peoples into the curriculum, we still need time to reach people who are not in school anymore and who need this information to operate in this world.

To argue that it should be unnecessary is to ignore the reality — that it is necessary, and not sufficient.

Why not white history?

We have a white history. It is called European history or western civilization. It is taught as a full year in high school as “world” history. Everything we have is based on that history.

What we want to do is integrate other information into it to make it more accurate.

If we are to celebrate our achievements as a civilization, it should be all of the achievements of all of our citizens, not just selected ones.

Our strength is in our citizenry, and that means all of our citizenry.

Accurate history is a strength, and knowing why we are here, in this junction of racial discord, is also a strength.

We cannot fix a problem that we do not understand.

African American History Month is an invitation for all to learn about our people, our race relations, our achievement, our struggles and our shared values.

It is our bridge to a better future.

We need it, now more than ever, because we are far too polarized today by inaccurate information, and by people like Mr. Spencer, quoted above. The internet allows hoaxers to try to promote false histories.

Events like African American History Month allow the documents and evidence of accurate history to break through.

If the citizens of the US are to unite, it will be through a shared history.

This history.

[1] Osita Nwanevu, “Richard Spencer and His Alt-Right Buddies Launch a New Website”, Slate, The Slaatest, Jan. 17, 2017 2:11 PM, PERSISTENT URL HTTP://WWW.SLATE.COM/BLOGS/THE_SLATEST/2017/01/17/RICHARD_SPENCER_LAUNCHES_THE_ALT_RIGHT_S_NEWEST_WEBSITE.HTML.

[2] ________.”Malcolm X quotes: in his own words” The Week, February 22, 2015; Persistent Url:

[3] Edward E. Baptist, "Cuffy," "Fancy Maids," and "One-Eyed Men": Rape, Commodification, and the Domestic Slave Trade in the United States”, The American Historical Review, Vol. 106, No. 5 (Dec., 2001), pp. 1619-1650, persistent url