It’s February, which means it’s the month of love. The month where the majority of us who resolved to change our lives in some small or significant way at the start of the year have likely already fallen off the wagon. It’s the shortest month of the year, and the one that is decidedly the most difficult to spell. February is a lot of things, including the month we celebrate Black history. Or, at least, we should.
I mean, I’m not going to sit here and pretend that I’ve ever done anything truly significant to celebrate Black History Month. It’s not like I’m against it. But in all honesty, I’ve never really given it the credit that I know it deserves.
Every February, the teachers would trot out the obligatory standards—you know the ones: Rosa Parks, MLK Jr., Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass—and sprinkle them on the curriculum like the tasteless chocolate sprinkles atop a vanilla sundae. I vaguely remember learning about peanut butter, traffic lights and reading To Kill a Mockingbird. A sideways glance at my children’s homework this month suggests little has changed since the ’80s. And that’s the part I don’t understand.
If history isn’t a moving, evolving account of the world we live in, what is the point? If we’re not learning history to celebrate our legacy, or at the very least striving not to repeat the mistakes of the past, it becomes dates and names of long ago, forgotten portraits, faded by time.
Unfortunately, that’s how Black history was taught to me. As one of the few minorities at my school growing up, Black History Month was an awkward and isolating experience. But deep down, I know what it should be.
Black history should be for everyone.
It’s American history. Maybe if we stop compartmentalizing the experiences and contributions of entire groups of people into their own little boxes, we could fully realize the depth and diversity of the roots beneath American soil.
When we stop teaching diversity for the sake of diversity, and instead focus on the richness of the history that built this land, I can only imagine the stories we’d tell.
Black history should be more than tragedy.
Learning the lyrics to Negro spirituals and seeing the images of slave auctions can be an overwhelming and shameful experience. The tragedy is real, and too important to be trivialized, rushed or ignored. But we need to celebrate the good stuff too, to serve as a counterbalance to the bad, to give it context and meaning beyond the songs and the pictures.
Celebrate the accomplishments of Black people and their contributions to our lives today—the geniuses, warriors and trail blazers that give all children a strong example to follow. Generations of taking a few days to reflect only on the hurts of the past can be damaging and, when done incorrectly, leave fresh scars.
Black history should go beyond February.
Did you hear the one where the parents at a Utah school “opted out” of Black History Month? This very week we are having these discussions, and we can’t even agree on what is right and what is wrong. We have to realize that true Black history cannot be contained within the capacity of 28 days. You can’t just “opt out” of Black history. And the fact that it was a possible option for even one day anywhere proves we still have a way to go.
You might have noticed by this point that my piece provides no definite answers. That’s because I don’t really know what the answers are. Sometimes I feel like we’ve made such significant strides. And sometimes I just feel tired and lost.
But when I was watching H.E.R. singing America the Beautiful at the Super Bowl LV with her electric guitar, I felt pride. I felt hope. I love America, and I want to contribute that small something that makes it even a tiny bit better before I leave this earth. That’s the part of Black history I want to celebrate.
Jenay Sherman is a Christian, wife, and mother to four boys in McKinney, Texas. She was selected as the American Mothers‘ 2017 Texas Mother of the Year and loves writing about their family adventures. You can follow along on her personal site 4 Amusing Muses.
This article was originally published in February 2021.