Does Black History Need More Than a Month?

Tom Jacobs, Miller McCune, January 23, 2012

Last February, Nike marked the annual celebration of all things African American with the limited release of four separate sets of sneakers. To quote from the company’s marketing copy describing the shoe: “The predominantly black upper of this Black History Month Air Force 1 is a nod to the past, because in the early days of the sport of basketball, shoes on the court were almost always black. The hints of gold all around the shoe are reminders of the golden moment we all are striving to achieve.”

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Shukree Hassan Tilghman makes only passing reference to Nike during his enjoyably droll documentary More Than a Month, which will be broadcast on PBS February 16 as part of the Independent Lens series. But there are so many comically absurd by-products of Black History Month to contemplate. Fifty years ago, African Americans in the South were forced to sit in the back of the bus; today, the sides of buses are splashed with ads urging riders to “Celebrate Black History Month with Heineken.”

Tilghman finds this commercialization—not to mention the shift of focus away from actual history—simultaneously amusing, puzzling, and disturbing. His film asks whether Black History Month has outlived its usefulness and, in the process, raises pointed questions about race, culture, and the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves.

The idea of setting aside a period of time to focus on black history dates back to 1926, when African American historian Carter G. Woodson inaugurated Negro History Week. (The concept spread around the nation with surprising speed, morphing into a month in the wake of the 1960s civil rights movement.) {snip}

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Tilghman’s proposal to cancel Black History Month—meant to be provocative more than practical—is met with considerable resistance. Among the skeptics is his mother; without such a month, she doubts “anyone would say anything good about black people.” Others echo that theme, calling the filmmaker naive. Better to have the spotlight focused on our contribution briefly than not at all.

His counterargument is simple: Isn’t segregation by month still segregation? Making sure blacks have one month to tell their stories (a cold, short month) allows the mainstream culture to hold onto its dominant historical narrative, which centers almost exclusively on European settlers and immigrants. There’s no need to talk about the role played by black people; that’s what February is for.

So what’s the alternative? Tilghman finds a potentially empowering prototype in Philadelphia, a city with a long history of racial unrest. Today, Philly students must complete a yearlong course in African American history to graduate—a requirement that ensures black history isn’t confined to February.

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  • Anonymous

    The problem isn’t that a month isn’t enough, but that the history they use isn’t.

    It needs a lesson in serious history, like how violent sub-Saharan African has always been, the life expectancy of a West African went up from 23 to 37 after being sent to Anglo-America, and why so many of them don’t have fathers and kill each other.

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/GenXinOz GenX ANZAC

    Giving black America Liberia, apparently was not enough.

  • Bardon Kaldian

    Month’s too much;  a day would be enough.

    • Anonymous

      I agree 1 day is plenty long to talk about black history.

      • R P

        15 minutes is all they deserve.

  • http://countenance.wordpress.com/ Question Diversity

    Cancel BHM?  It’s almost redundant anyway.  “Black History Month” these days starts at the beginning of Kwanzaa and goes all the way until Juneteenth.

    More relevant question:  Do we need a White History Month?  Sam Francis (RIP) and Lou Calabro argued about it.  I only disagreed with Sam twice in my life, and the WHM issue was one of them.  Sam thought a WHM was a condescending demotion of whites to the space of a mere month.  I was with Calabro, in that we need anything for white people to start thinking of themselves as white people, even if it’s just a month.

    FTR, my other disagreement was with the draft.  Sam was kinda for it.

    • Anonymous

      You can’t ignore White History 92% of the year.

  • Esmithton91

    if they were to show the accomplishments of the black race, about 10 minutes would do and I’m not sure how to fill that, unless you use sports clips…………..maybe some music recordings.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Darrel-Collins/100000893415336 Darrel Collins

    Blacks ran from crocodiles and lions
    They enslaved each other
    Arabs came and enslaved them
    Whites came in and bought slaves from blacks and arabs
    Whites decided slavery was bad long before anyone else, including black people
    Someone had a dream
    Someone sat down and didn’t want to get up
    Whites allowed them to assimilate
    Now we have a bunch of crime, primitive music, and a degraded culture

    Black history minute

    • Anonymous

      Haha very true.

      But you forgot about the miscegenation.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Darrel-Collins/100000893415336 Darrel Collins

        I don’t want people to think i’m racist.  When I am around black people, I introduce myself as “Da’ Rell”

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_W25W7Z72IPG34VCBTTORC7GE3U Steven

    Blacks didn’t create a written language until after europeans invented calculus. So europeans and asians have more than 12 times the actual history that blacks do. Blacks dont even know it was blacks who sold convicts and defeated tribes into slavery and that today you can give money to a charity that buys a slave in africa and sets it free for $5. But NBA players wouldn’t give money to that even after buying a gold plated stripper pole. Blacks sold into slavery in the US where very lucky as the hottentots where genocided by the zulus instead of being sold. Nowhere in the world do blacks live as well than in white nations. Being on welfare/dole is better than being in the top 1% of natives in black nations. Blacks travel thru many safe nations where they would have to work to eat in order to make it to the welfare/dole.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jared-Pierce/100003179488978 Jared Pierce

    I believe in AfroCentric curriculum, 12 months of a year, for African American communities.  I believe in Asian emphasis for Asian communities. And I believe in Eurocentric focus for European Americans, for my people.  In other words, I think curriculum should reflect communities and communities should be allowed to be segregated by color or culture or religious beliefs.  Having a generic curriculum that fits everyone just won’t work in our diverse nation.  Whether we like it or not, the answer is segregation and local control.

    Q.

    • Bardon Kaldian

      I believe in Afro-centric algebra. For instance, 2 + 2 = 22

    • Bardon Kaldian

      I believe in Afro-centric algebra. For instance, 2 + 2 = 22

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_W25W7Z72IPG34VCBTTORC7GE3U Steven

    Blacks didn’t create a written language until after europeans invented calculus. But the most important black invention was the time machine that let Carver teach peanut butter to the anchient Incas, the stoplight guy to London before the automobile. You think the black time machine inventer would have given a written language to blacks and show them the plant chimps are smart enuoght to eat that cures malaria. google (chimp self medicate) to see the smartest natives of africa.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_ON2GRX36BHWHCFUFVY4DNBDNSE Ron

      Ive seen that before on all these supposed invention by blacks, and was absolutely astounded to have learned how i was lied to by the schools and the media.  Besides how would one invent peanut butter anyway?

      I could go to a kitchen and cook up some concoction and say i “invented” something.  They should include in their month how the black males commit more than 50% of murders.  Some history, these guys haven’t done squat.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_W25W7Z72IPG34VCBTTORC7GE3U Steven

    Blacks still sell slaves in africa there is a charity that buys them for $5 and sets them free. Also google( child sacrifice BBC africa 2011) to see african current culture

    • Anonymous

      Five dollars? Last time I recall the missionaries were paying $50 a head to save African slaves. Price must have dropped.

      One thing in particular that I despise about blacks is their mistreatment and degradation of dogs.  I want to say to them well….I paid $500 for my dog, and last I heard your kind was being sold for $50 a piece in Sudan. Guess that means he is worth 10 of you.

      Course saying that would be silly because  my dog is priceless and they aren’t worth 5 cents.

      • Anonymous

        $0.05 is pushing it…

  • Anonymous

    Black Hisree Munf?

    Surely one hour should suffice!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jean-Deux/1540915347 Jean Deux

    of course they will need more than one month as they keep re-writing history

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jean-Deux/1540915347 Jean Deux

    more appropriately titled “black mythstery month”

  • Anonymous

    Isn’t everyday black history month in BRA?

    The problem is, there isn’t much to celebrate about black history. What should be celebrated? Rape, murder, abortions, fatherless kids, crime, drug use, ebonics, the super soaker, myths, lies, propoganda, detroit, lower intelligence, Etc. etc.

  • Anonymous

    I find it simultaneously hilarious and frustrating that blacks are always mentioning how the fact the BHM is relegated to February – the “short”, “cold” month – is a way for white America to attach a petty insult to such an important black institution.

    The fact is that it’s in February because it started out in the 1920’s as Negro History Week, organized by Carter Woodson, son of slaves and a Harvard teacher. He chose the second week of February because it coincided with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. I think it was extended into the full month of February sometime in the 1970’s. This is how profoundly ignorant and deceptive blacks can be when it suits them – a black man chooses the date based on the birthday a black man and of the President who freed the blacks and eighty years later the fact that it’s in February becomes more proof of white racism. Got it?

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_XUNMZOUALEHPCGRP3L4UACGK3M Jerry

      Facts mean nothing to blacks and their supporters. They will continually lie through their rotten teeth to make it look like mean ole whitey is keeping Latrine and Detritus from becoming an astrophycisist or biochemist.

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/2CDWIFBAEAK2R3FP6O3UXNVTJQ kjhkngjnhkj f

    “Tilghman finds this commercialization—not to mention the shift of focus
    away from actual history—simultaneously amusing, puzzling, and
    disturbing.”

    I find it more than a tad bit ironic (and at the same time, incredibly laughable) that a soul-less corporation, known to use (or, at least, known to have used) sweat-shop and forced labor to produce their products, are directly marketing this latest line of shoes to those of African descent as a celebration of and statement about “their culture”.

    A culture that over tens or possibly hundreds of thousands of years of evolution in the so-called “cradle of civilization” never bothered to invent a shoe for themselves. Or a building made of something other than mud or dung. Or a wheel, for that matter. In a “culture” that hunted primarily using spears for centuries uncounted, they couldn’t even come up with an atlatl, for Christ’s sake.

    What, exactly, are we supposed to be commemorating?

    • Anonymous

      What’s even more telling for me is the fact that blacks can’t even seem to recognize and utilize successful social strategies and innovations.

      Whites and Asians have written the instruction manual on how to build successful and productive societies but blacks can’t seem to make use of this information. It’s as if they’re always trying to re-invent the wheel when the wheel has already been invented and used to move societies forward.

      They don’t have to re-invent the wheel, they just don’t seem to understand how to use it.

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_XUNMZOUALEHPCGRP3L4UACGK3M Jerry

        Blacks and liberals fail because the logic and facts are foreign to them. 

  • Anonymous

    Among the skeptics is his mother; without such a month, she doubts “anyone would say anything good about black people.”

    Why do we have to be told that blacks had contributed something positive? Why isn’t the greatness and goodness of black culture and history self-evident?

    Most black history consists of telling us what the first black man did that the white man has been doing for years. For me, black history only reinforces the fact that blacks are behind other races when it comes to historical achievements and most of these are minor footnotes in history.

  • http://www.facebook.com/hunter.morrow1 Hunter Morrow

    How many goddamned TRILLIONS have they received in food, clothing, shelter, education, medication and employment in jobs they didn’t deserve in the last 50 years? Gah, more than a month. Okay, take 2. One to take their possessions as payback of a loan with interest, and one to get them on boats back to Africa, the moronic ingrates.

    • Anonymous

      I think it says a lot about the strength of America about how successful America has been, despite a large black population weighing it down for the last 150 years.  Especially lately, when the “TRILLIONS” you speak of have been spent on our tax dollars.

      American blacks are a liability.  I only wish they would go back to Africa.  There they can celebrate Black History all they want and we don’t have to hear about it.

      • Sarena

        Where should I begin?

        “despite a large black population weighing it down for the last 150 years.” Your calculations are off, and as for weighing down ‘My’ country, you are sadly mistaken.

        There have been free Black men and women in the Americas, since the early 1500’s. Ever heard of Nuflo de Orlando, Juan Garrido, and the Maroons of Georgia? I would guess that you have not.
        Benjamin Banneker; surveyor of our great nation, mathematician, astronomer, inventor, scientist, etc. You should look him up; do some research and expand your mind, because it is a bit short sighted/closed.
        Well, Black Americans have generated over trillions of dollars worth of revenue for our country. From modern music (Blues, Jazz, Rock N’ Roll, Rag Time, Hip Hop, Soul, etc), inventions that many gave willing without wanting much in return to General Electric, Tom Ford and many other mega corporations. From medical devices, to art, sports, and science.

        The only liability is insecure people with your sense of entitlement and inaccurate notions of other ethnic groups.

        Have a read; just one small example out of many. Katherine Johnson, Granville T. Woods, Jimmi Hendrix, and so on.

    • Anonymous

      I think it says a lot about the strength of America about how successful America has been, despite a large black population weighing it down for the last 150 years.  Especially lately, when the “TRILLIONS” you speak of have been spent on our tax dollars.

      American blacks are a liability.  I only wish they would go back to Africa.  There they can celebrate Black History all they want and we don’t have to hear about it.

  • Anonymous

    Repatriating blacks to Africa seems like the most logical solution. On the Dark Continent every second is black history second.

  • Anonymous

    Most blacks believe that whitey picked February as black history month.  A black man picked it. 

    • Sarena

      Most Black Americans do not believe that.

  • Anonymous

    Black history month NEEDS a torpedo up it’s ARSE!

  • Anonymous

    To Moderator-  Did you eliminate my last post about what black history month really needs?…What was wrong with it?…

  • Anonymous

    not even the honour of “Loyalwhitebriton – post removed”?

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_XUNMZOUALEHPCGRP3L4UACGK3M Jerry

    Look up Carter Goodson you ignorant dope. What’s peculiar is that no other race has an official history month and none of them are whining about it.

    • Sarena

      There is a German Heritage month, Irish, Native American, Hispanic, Asian, etc; if White people as yourself stopped complaining so much, you would know others have a history/heritage month as well.

  • Zorro

    True. Between Kwanza, Michael King, and this history month, for who knows what achievements, its one long McDonald’s Commercial blaring out bad food, bad clothes, bad taste jewelry, over a pounding Tribal beat of obnoxious noise that is supposed to pass for music.

  • Zorro

    Does it really need more than five minutes?

  • Detroit_WASP
  • Sarena

    “Am I supposed to grovel in acknowledgement of the the one African in 10,000 with an IQ above 120?”

    Invalid drivel, and when all else fails, bring up Obama. This has nothing to do with Obama, or PC; update your talking points. I know Jared is your God, but try to think for yourself.

    One? I could name you more than one, absent of Youtube videos and Jared long winded nonsense.

    Katherine Johnson, Granville T. Woods, George Washington Carver, Annie Easley, Dr. Ben Carson, Patricia Bath, David Blackwell, Dr. Daniel Hale and the list goes on and on.

    You acknowledged absolutely nothing I previously stated in my comment and it is evident that I didn’t name ‘One’ person. I gave you examples of building this country for the better in Science, Inventions, Explorations, etc.

    What do you give me in response? Jared and your whining about how I made a rebuttal on an open forum. Grow thicker skin.

    “When you take into account affirmative action, miscegenation, and all of the rapes, murders, burglaries, muggings, etc., is it really worth having the one African in 10,000 who actually makes a meaningful contribution? and even then, Africans’ contributions to science/engineering pale in comparison to Europeans”

    “Yawn”.

    Glad that was over. 70% of overall violent crimes are committed by the majority group in this country; Whites. Black Americans have done nothing negatively ‘COLLECTIVELY’ against/towards White Americans. Nothing; AA was created by White Liberals and White people still get the majority of government aid for school and other things.

    Stop whining about other groups of people and get yourself together. Black Americans have helped build this country on par with White Americans and didn’t receive handouts. Your group was given a silver spoon and here you whine, and whine some more.

    Tell me Mr. Knowledgeable; what do you know of Africa’s contribution or Black American contribution to civilization for you to make any assessment? Not you or Jared Taylor know much, which makes your opinions nothing of value.