Making Room For Black History Month
February 16, 2016
Filed under Opinion
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February is a month filled with holidays and annual events that are celebrated by the MacDuffie community, most notably “Heart Week,” which revolves around the theme of Valentine’s Day. However, Valentine’s Day isn’t the only celebration important to people in our community. So it’s perplexing that many school emails have been referring to February as “Heart Month,” without mention of its much more significant role as Black History Month. In a school as diverse as our own, the acknowledgment of Black History Month has been lacking in the past few years. In fact, Black History Month is hardly mentioned in our day to day learning and conversations. This after another January has come and gone with our school once again missing an important opportunity to acknowledge the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with neither a day off for our own individual reflection or a MacDuffie community-wide acknowledgment of his achievements and contributions to America (and no, a 30 minute lecture by a white Smith College professor is not enough). The theme of hearts and gift giving certainly reflects the warm atmosphere of MacDuffie, but how can we also touch the hearts of those who want to learn about Black History? For this reason, I will make sure that Black History Month will take on an important role in the MacDuffie community this February and many more to come.
In order to shine light on the importance of Black History Month, the people in our community should respect it and be willing to learn. Reminders about Black History Month are all around our school. For example, I have sent emails out, had posters hung up and read poems aloud. However, advertising can only do so much when Black History is never acknowledged inside our classrooms and in our lessons. It’s encouraged that the information I share about this topic should be spread throughout the community instead of kept in one place and forgotten about at the end of the day. Other ways to shine light would be to start celebrating as a school. Even though it’s great that groups of teachers and students are contributing to the appreciation of Black History, why can’t the whole entire school get involved? It shouldn’t be a question of whether a school as diverse as our own should take part in supporting anything relating to the pride of a culture or race. The school has shown that it can embrace celebrations of culture, and it should be no different for Black History.
Of course, Black History can extend beyond February, as Black Americans make contributions all year long. For example, workshops can be created for diversity day built around Black History and current events. In an academic setting, these things should be incorporated into current history classes (for middle and upper school) as much as possible, but providing the option of a college-style cultural studies class would be an even more productive step in securing for this history the attention it deserves. At the very least, our heritage shouldn’t be watered down and left out just for the comfort of people who only associate Black Americans with slavery. We have made other contributions to America that deserve to be acknowledged, remembered, honored and celebrated. Talking about slavery and racism is uncomfortable, but it’s still a conversation that has to take place because of how inseparable it is from American history. Furthermore, Black History isn’t just learning about the same Black History we’ve learned since elementary school. It is about having deeper conversations about how this history affects the present, where anti-black racism is still a powerful force. These are conversations MacDuffie can handle, as shown by the existence of clubs such as M.O.S.A.I.C. and C.W.E.E. which talk about different forms of discrimination and welcome diversity. In the future, I will advocate for a club to be created to empower the Black community while welcoming others to learn about Black History and how it affects current day-to-day lives.
With such a small percentage of Black American students and teachers in our community, it’s easy to see where MacDuffie’s priorities lie when the history and present day concerns of the Black community aren’t talked about. A February calendar that makes Valentine’s Day a week-long affair while ignoring Black History entirely only marginalizes this community further. As can be seen, there are ways to fix this issue. But it cannot go unaddressed that MacDuffie, despite being a school that advertises its diversity, does not honor and celebrate the minute Black population among its students and staff. Even though our school is represented by many countries and cultures, we can only laud ourselves for our respect for diversity if we fully recognize each other’s importance and unique qualities, and that includes recognizing Black History Month.