The Trauma of Learning about Black History Month in White Schools
Why are Black students always made to feel uncomfortable during Black History Month?
Every February we are reminded that it is Black History Month. Many jokes have us questioning why Black History Month is the shortest month of the year but the chances of that being intentional is slim. According to History.com, Black History Month came to be about from “Negro History Week,” the brainchild of noted historian Carter G. Woodson and other prominent African Americans. Since 1976, every U.S. president has officially designated the month of February as Black History Month.
The Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), sponsored a national Negro History week in 1926, choosing the second week of February to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. The event inspired schools and communities nationwide to organize local celebrations, establish history clubs and host performances and lectures. President Gerald Ford officially recognized Black History Month in 1976, calling upon the public to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
During Black History Month it seems like we are only taught about the same figures: George Washington Carver, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks and of course Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. But the history lesson for the month never seems to address America’s terrible relationship with Black people since the start of the country and how those same actions effect Black people today. Instead, being the only Black person in class you might remember dreading Black History Month because of the awkward stares that your white peers gave. I’ll never understand why white students always stared at me when the teacher mentioned anything about Black people. I’m not sure if they thought the stares were comforting or acknowledging but it is a terrible feeling. My memories of Black History Month also include white teachers justifying slavery saying, “not all slaveowners were mean” and making us debate if the confederate flag was racist. These are things I will never forget because every February I wanted to hide to avoid the uncomfortable feelings and the never ending stares.
Because of the environment and feelings white schools create, Black students don’t get to truly learn about their history. The school is not going to teach us about figures like Fred Hampton or Malcom X. So we are stuck with limited information about our history and we have to do extra work to find information about our ancestors because the school system has failed us. With very little and accurate information about the relationship between Black people and America, it makes it easier for white people to have limited knowledge of Black people and lack of empathy and understanding for the Black experience in America.
In this episode, Sufficiently Black give a little history on how Black History Month came about and share their personal stories on experiencing Black History lessons in all white schools. Janae recounts a memory on being reprimanded for giving a school report on Malcolm X and Amari discusses the time she saw brutal images of slavery as a child. This leads to the topic of questioning how adults should approach sensitive topics like slavery with children. Later, the four women explain what they wished they learned during Black History Month as well as what they hope Black History Month looks like in the future.
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