It’s that grand and awesome time again when our televisions are overwhelmed with all the movies ever made about black people, slavery and all those topics that can cause one to strongly dislike whites. Yes, it’s Black History Month.
I never really had a problem observing Black History Month back in the day, because hey, that was always my time to watch these movies (usually the same ones every year…thanks CVM and TVJ!) and
remember why the white folk are hated so much learn about those who contributed significantly to the upliftment of the black race. Now that I am older and wiser, the significance of Black History Month is becoming more and more questionable each year.
History of Black History Month
Black History Month first began as “Negro History Week” in 1926 when historian Carter G. Woodson declared the holiday to be the second week of February, hoping that it would eventually be eliminated when black history became more fundamental to American History. In 1976, the expansion of Negro History Week to Black History Month was acknowledged by the U.S. government. Black History Month was first celebrated in the United Kingdom in 1987 in the month of October. In 1995, Canada’s House of Commons officially recognized February as Black History Month and in 2008, the Senate approved the motion for it to be recognized.
The American Reality
After recently finding out the information above, the following questions suddenly ran through my mind:
1. Why are we celebrating Black History Month in Jamaica?
2. Do they even celebrate Black History Month in Africa?
As the History clearly denotes, Black History Month was created with the intention of recognizing African-Americans who contributed significantly to…..well, umm, the history of black Americans! So, technically, the celebration is just for a select portion of American History.
But the question still remains: why do Jamaicans celebrate it? I could give many answers. For example:
1. We are the proverbial “bench” to the “batty” of the United States, so anything they have, we must have also.
2. We want to celebrate our black heroes too, so since they use February in the States, maybe we can borrow it.
3. Our country somehow has a connection to African-American History.
4. I don’t really know.
Let’s now move on to question two. The answer is NO, Black History Month is not celebrated in Africa. Why? Again, I could only give a set of answers that may or may not edify or enlighten anyone.
The Jamaican Reality
Black History Month has been met with a lot of criticism and each year the number of critics grow. I suppose I just added myself to that list. One of the main points of debate is the usefulness and fairness of dedicating one whole month to the history of just one race. Some may argue that it [Black History Month] is necessary because blacks suffered greatly at the hands of the whites, what with all the slavery and oppression and segregation and such. Additionally, blacks played a significant role in American History. But while all this is true, are there not other races that suffered? Are there not other significant contributors to American History that are from other races? So then, why isn’t there a Native American History Month? Or an Asian History Month?
As for celebrating Black History Month in Jamaica, I may see it differently from the average person. Yes, we want to recognize and remember our forefathers who struggled and fought to get us where we are today and yes, we want the future generations to be aware of their heritage and culture. BUT, isn’t that what we have Emancipation Day, Independence Day and Heroes Day for? Is it absolutely necessary that we join hands with the United States and accompany them as they skip down their memory lane?
At the end of the day, I believe that a nation with such a rich history and diverse culture does not need to be so closely tied to the American interpretation of Black History Month. It should not come down to a set 28 days where we urge our children to learn about their ancestors. The last I checked, History was a subject taught in High School. Hello?
If we do indeed desire to use February for the dissemination of information regarding our history, we need to stop showing Roots, The Colour Purple, and all those other American-slavery-based films and get some Bob Marley, Miss Lou and other Jamaican cultural icons on the television. I will also suggest that we stop harping on the dream from Martin Luther King, Jr. to Barack Obama and focus on what happened between Bustamante and Mama P, if we want Jamaica’s history to be something noteworthy.