It’s Black History Month, which means I get to indulge in two of my favorite things: 1) learning stuff I didn’t know about culture and history; and 2) rolling my eyes at people who say “But why don’t we have a white history month?”
In case you’re wondering: We don’t have a white history month because every day is white history day. If you’re white you can turn on the history channel and see the history of white America, or white England, or white Germany. American history taught in schools is largely the story of white colonialists, while the history of people of color is marginalized.
Personally, I blame two things for the prevalence of anti-black history month sentiment: white privilege and the notion of colorblindness. Let’s break it down: Every white person benefits from white privilege; that is, we do not experience structural or systemic disadvantages in our society due to our race. Colorblindness, the notion that it is ideal for us all to ignore race altogether and just identify as part of one human race, is an attempt at ignoring white privilege and the different struggles people of color experience, and usually means expecting everyone to conform to white culture. The ideal of colorblindness is the epitome of white privilege; only white people get to ignore race because it doesn’t negatively impact our lives. The combination of these two elements leads some people to think that talking about race or celebrating the specific history of a non-white people is unfair and divisive. It’s not, and though I wish that black history was more incorporated into overall American culture and education, until it is I’m glad that we as a nation take some time out to acknowledge black contributions and achievements.
Now, back to celebrating Black History Month: I don’t like to rehash the same few figures that everyone learns about in school, so here is a brief list of cool people you might not know about:
•Mary Mahoney: She became the first African-American registered nurse in 1879, practiced for 30 years. Along the way she “became one of the original members of a predominately white Nurses Associated Alumnae of the United States and Canada,” otherwise known as the American Nurses Association. She also co-founded the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses (NACGN).
•Lucy Parsons: Of African, Native, and Mexican decent, Lucy was a revolutionary labor activist who led workers in protests all over the country. She was famous as an orator and wildly hated by police and capitalists alike for her fervent action against the exploitation of workers.
•Probably Beethoven: No, really. You can read the details at the link, but what’s really interesting to me is that in spite of his contemporaries’ many comments on his ancestry and dark complexion, he is still depicted as a pale-skinned German in most musical history texts. The white-washing of history is worth a whole other post.
•Michelle freakin’ Obama: No link necessary, right? This is cheating a little because we all know who she is, but I just like to mention her because she is awesome. Fellow sociology major, Princeton and Harvard graduate, anti-poverty and pro-nutrition educator, classy lady. Love her.
• Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson: Black history is still being made, of course, so I wanted to include another modern lady. Dr. Jackson is the first black woman to earn a doctorate in theoretical physics and the first black woman to head the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission. You can read more about her here.
So, Feronia readers, are there any notable black figures in history who inspire you?