A lot of us have only a vague understanding of Black History Month, and we blame the education system. It’s not just a celebration of great Black people in American history. It’s gaining a deeper understanding of all Black people, throughout American history and into the present.
This hole in American history isn’t a coincidence, and it isn’t new. Dr. Carter G. Woodson, a historian, editor, publisher, and author, felt that Black history should be well known to all, especially Black people, if they were to participate in democracy and the affairs of our country.
While attending a celebration of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in Illinois that lasted three weeks, he realized the lack of celebration and acknowledgment was deeply rooted in our education system, and that we needed more time to embrace and study the gritty and resilient past of Black people under this nation. In 1926, he laid the foundation for Black History Month with his Black History Week—a week dedicated to celebrating Black heritage in America.
While much more abbreviated than the rich history itself merits, Black History Week served to help school systems coordinate some attention to not only celebrating the movement of emancipation, but recognizing in clear, truthful detail how Black people came to be here in the U.S., how they have struggled, and what has been done to progress this country on their accord.
While we take this time to devote special attention to Black history, that doesn’t make it separate from American collective history, and we shouldn’t treat it that way. It’s simply a way to shine light on what we’ve fallen short of recognizing in the past. It’s not a blip in the year, but a reminder of the work we should be doing all year long. Facing a fraught history of slavery and continued systemic racism and police brutality, we strive for better awareness and education.
A week doesn’t suffice for the time it takes to respect and recognize the hardships and sacrifices made by Black Americans. While a month doesn’t quite cut it either, February is the month of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass’ birthdays, and Woodson wanted to amplify the voices and achievements of Black people and the pursuit of genuine freedom. To continue that work, we have to keep reading, learning, and seeking out ways to provide justice and equality.
One of those ways is conscious shopping. In order to level the scales, buying Black-owned is crucial because it helps put dollars back into the Black community. Just because a conglomerate company uses Black models to appear socially conscious does not mean they are doing something significant with their profits or spreading fundamental awareness. Here are some amazing brands to look at right now:
Here are some excellent books to read, as well as TV, docs, and movies to check out this month and every month:
Judas and The Black Messiah
I May Destroy You
Dear White People
See You Yesterday
I Am Not Your Negro
When They See Us