What Black History Month Means to Me
by Alina Wilson
I once had a girl say to me, “The reason that we don’t talk about black history often is that there isn’t any.” In one sentence, she trivialized my entire culture, and that hurt me… but she also got me thinking. Apart from the tidbits of Black history I have learned from a Black leadership organization in which I participate, I haven’t learned much about Black culture and history. From anywhere.
In my mind, this is a tragedy. If I do not know my culture, my roots, how am I supposed to know who I am. American history is my history. This is true. But I do not identify strongly with the monochromatic leaders of history. The few Black characters in the history of our nation are either slaves or civil rights leaders. Every time I sit in a history class, I think, “Why do I only hear about my people during the slavery unit?” The only Black man we truly celebrate every year was murdered by his country. By this country that we live in.
My classmates are content with their heroes: their inventors, their public figures, their conquerors. All of my heroes fought against a country that refused to recognize them as people, as equals. My heroes were whipped, beaten, and lynched. Most of them were martyrs, murdered for trying to seek a better life. But I wish to know the history beyond the oppression and the shame. A speech from one of my peers at a Black Teen Conference introduced new heroes to me. He spoke of the “Kings and Queens” from which African Americans descended. I found little of my history in schools, so I started to research on my own. Not only have I started researching the history of my people but I have also begin reading the words of my people. “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates will be the first of many novels I read to find my history, my voice, and my hope for the future.
I would have a very different response for the girl if she said the same thing to me today. I know Black history exists outside of slavery and the ongoing struggle for civil rights. I also know, without a doubt, that Black History Month is important. It is important for the same reason that Latinx history, Native American history, and Asian history are important: they are the history of America. America has always claimed to be a melting pot of cultures. By celebrating Black History Month, we are one step closer to becoming a nation that truly recognizes the greatness of all of its people.