Monday, February 6, 2012

Oh: It's the Dreaded Black History Month Again

Ah, here we are again: the dreaded BHM: Black History Month.
On the one hand, I just hate Black History Month. On the other, I love it and support it.


There are two things that always serve to remind me that sometimes it’s a real pain in the ass to be “overly trained” in history.

The first is when I’m in a beer and shot joint in the Northwoods of Wisconsin and someone says “Oh, Maureen’s a historian” and some dolt wearing a John Deere cap with fishing lures hanging off of it and a t-shirt that says “My Country, Love it or Leave It” decides to belly up to my bar stool and ask me “So, a historian lady, huh? Betcha’ don’t know how many Jap cruisers were in the Battle for Leyte” or (my personal favorite for its amazing historical relevance) “Betcha’ can’t name Hitler’s favorite pet dog.”

Betch’yer right.
Fortunately, the need to sit in a bar waiting for a table for a Friday night fish fry up in the bowels of the Northwoods is not much of a re-occurring problem in my life.

Black History Month, however, is.

Well, let me rephrase that: the real problem is the abiding endurance of this particular question:

Why isn’t there a White History Month?

Like all clouds, this one does have a silver lining: it tells me more about the person posing the question that I might otherwise learn over a very long period of time.

The very question is snarky in extremis.

I can take that question and work a crowd of 100 white people and within a half hour have a damn good idea about the company I’m keeping.

That fact aside, let me state once and for all why there is no bona fide* White History Month:

Because white people don't need one. 

The entire written historical record in the West, until very recently when history became professionalized, has been written by the dominant people holding power. In the entire history of Western Civilization, people of color have never held power – with the possible exception of the Moors’ control of the Iberian Peninsula a long, long time ago.

Black people had no voice. But neither did women, Latinos, Orientals, Native Americans, Jews, and many others -- at least not in the dominant historical narrative of Western civilization which was written by white male elites.
I’m not assigning blame to anyone here – it just is what it is, OK?

Deal with it.

That said, oppression alone isn’t why society or groups may recognize a need to carve out public recognition for a particular ethnic, racial, cultural, or religious people. No, sometimes other purposes are also served by these designations. Public education and civic gratitude are two of them; others are to help foster a sense of self-worth and well deserved pride.

More on this subject over the coming days.
*I don’t consider Facebook sites dedicated to White History Month bona fide. If you have to ask me why – don’t bother.
* This post was first published a yr ago and I think it remains relevant and am republishing although it has been slightly revised.


  1. OK, so you move to the head of the class... but to stay there you'd better know a helluva lot more! :) Thanks for reading!

  2. Great post!
    Here in the UK it's National LGBT History Month.


  3. Thanks for the comment, Joseph! Nice to get feedback from over the pond!