Black History Month is A Part of the Solution and the Problem – Nicholas Raymond Rockey Simon

Nicholas Raymond Rockey Simon |

Why I Reluctantly Celebrate Black History Month

The history of Black History Month (BHM) is interesting in Canada. Many know the American story, how it began as “Negro History Week” in 1926. In 1976 President Ford made the growing trend of celebrating a “Black History Month” official.

In Canada, it wasn’t until 1995 when Liberal MP Jean Augustine, motioned for the month to be recognized in Canada that it was so. 1995, 24 years ago! That is in most of our lifetimes and has bothered me since that day.           

At the ripe old age of 15, I remember thinking, “Why did this take so long? Why did it even need to happen?” Isn’t Black history also — Canadian or American history?   

Why do we need to distinguish the History of a particular race?      

Then I thought back to social studies classes, and other than slavery lectures, and visions of a poor, malnourished Africa, there was no mention of Black Canadians, Black Americans or Black Anythings.

A friend asked, “Why care? It’s just school.” ~ “It’s my history, I’m Black. What, The Canadian government doesn’t care about me?”

Years later I realized that wasn’t why it bothered me. Yes, I felt like ‘they’ didn’t care about me, worse though I realized they didn’t think we were the same.

“They don’t consider my history theirs, so how can the present and the future be ours?”

This is the issue with Black History Month. It is separate. A chiseled-out period of time where we recall ‘Black History’. This is harmful to all people.

There is no such thing as Black History. Just as there is no such thing as white or East Indian history.

There is just history. That’s all that should matter.

Those who wrote school history books didn’t deem it necessary to include blacks in Canadian and American history. So far, the solution to this has been the addition of Black History Month. It helps to educate people that the history of black people is not simply about slavery or documentaries on crime and imprisonment in the United States.

Black people have been quality contributors to society and share a country, a history, a present, and a future with fellow citizens. BHM showcases this and yes, that is better than being left out entirely, but hardly the bee’s knees.

Now I am a descendant of “take what you can get” people, hence why Oxtail, pig’s feet, and chicken wings are black culture staple foods. We make the most of the scraps.

This is why Black History Month rings with pride! People of various ethnic descents own it, embrace it and make it glow. Therefore, it is impossible for me not to take advantage of the opportunity to celebrate greatness. Although, it is hard to ignore the fact that this compromise feels patronizing and outdated. We should no longer be content with the scraps!

Black History Month highlights that black people are separate, unconnected, and not the same as the citizens of other races in the country in which they are from. The country that they call home and have helped build.

History Is Best Served Integrated

The recent debates over the sanctity of Civil War monuments reminded us of this lesson. In the US and Canada black history and white history are not connected. Both histories occurred at the same time but perspectives vary greatly. Instead of being apathetic to the feelings of one another we fight over what the history means to ‘our people’.

Because we are separate. It is still black pain. Not their pain; not their past.

Our past is not their history.

And that is the sad reality.

Living in that sad reality makes it no surprise that movements like Black Lives Matter (BLM) are born.

Black lives have not mattered for so long that BLM is the response. Just as BHM was the response of lack of mention in history books.

Like any relationship, in order to be connected, parties must share a past or have a ‘history’. That history acts as the bedrock for their future and brings reflection, empathy, and compassion to the present.

Why would black lives matter, that sounds like a ‘your problem’?

Movements need a plotted transition. How does it switch to ALL LIVES MATTER or ALL HISTORY IS OUR HISTORY? Without this transition, we remain divided, without connection and doomed to be content with scraps.

Our history, your history, our lives, your lives: These are the same, need to be viewed as the same, and treated as such, or what were we even fighting for?

Why did we find a way to start telling black history? Why are we out protesting black lives matter if not for parity? What would we prefer …? Black History Month or connected history? How do we come together?

I agree with celebrating BHM but I do so reluctantly. BLM is a problematic solution that still gets the job done, for now. The reality slaps me in the face Feb 1st of every year since I was 15.

Black History Month remains important and I will always recognize and participate.

I wait for the day when uttering the words ‘black history’ seems extraneous and actually silly.

What can we do to get us there, that transition? Ultimately, we need to be together and Black History Month is an annual reminder that we are NOT.

And that frustrates me.

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