February is a dedicated time to remember and reflect on the deep history of African Americans in the United States, and every February a fair amount of white people ask, “why is there no white history month?” Many people have a tendency to laugh this question off and reject it as having any value at all. Instead of allowing a conversation to form around the subject, this response mocks and ridicules the original person who asked the question, so rather than doing that, I want to seriously consider the question and try my best to address the concerns.
EXERCISING OUR EQUITY
If you haven’t read T.R. Ragland’s Non-Negotiables for Talking About Racial Reconciliation, I’d highly recommend it. In it, Mr. Ragland distinguishes between equality and equity. Black History month is an exercise of our equity. It takes a specific point of time to address a specific issue.
We do this with other things as well, right? October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and people will join together, wearing pink clothing or hanging pink ribbons all around. While this is going on, I have never seen an angry person demanding that there be a month dedicated to perfectly healthy people, too.
Why is that?
A UNITED FOCUS
These months represent a united focus on something that often goes unnoticed. Black History Month is a time specifically dedicated to putting the spotlight on people that often get pushed to the side. People like Fredrick Douglas, Ida B. Wells, and Malcolm X all have incredible stories that all people can learn from. George Washington Carver was more than just a peanut guy; Rosa Parks lived before and beyond she sat on the front seat of the bus, yet that’s often all we know about such people. All of this gets overlooked so we can hear how George Washington chopped down a cherry tree when he was a little kid (even though that never actually happened).
A FULLER PICTURE
Promoting Black History is not advocating for a less real version of history, but rather, Black History Month helps bring us to a fuller version of the country’s history. Although many powerful people that did great things for the United States were indeed white men, a full version of history shows more than just the people in obvious power. African Americans, women, and other overlooked groups played key roles in making this country what it is, or at least what it ought to be.
If our country wants to be a cultural melting pot, our history ought to reflect that. If we’re a country that prides ourselves on a self-made nature, we shouldn’t be afraid to recognize that we have failed miserably on our long road to success. Successful people make mistakes, and they recognize their mistakes so that they can improve upon them.
Likewise, great leaders recognize that other people were involved in the process. Maybe Harriet Jacobs never became the president, but her insight into the life of a slave girl is just as American as apple pie. If we truly believe that slaves were people too, that they had just as many rights as anyone, then we ought to recognize that their stories are stories of American citizens, and maybe, we could even learn something about our country and our history from them.
A CHRISTIAN RESPONSIBILITY
As Christians, we have a responsibility to care for the overlooked and marginalized. Not only do we believe that we were all made in the image of God, but we also believe that Christ cares for the individual. We clap our hands when we hear testimonies of one person talking about what God did in his or her specific life. We do not stop them for a second to make sure that everyone else gets a turn. We rejoice in each individual story because we know that it makes up the larger narrative that God is shaping for His people.
With this in mind, we should cherish the opportunity to recognize the history of African Americans. We can find and learn from the multitude of rich stories found in African American history. Tales of struggle and success, trials and triumphs, and overcoming situations regardless of how difficult sounds pretty dang American to me.
Joseph is a writer, editor, husband, and perpetual student. He is passionate about telling the world how the Gospel meets the needs of culture. He is the co-founder of Grounds and currently serves as the editorial director.