Black History Month: It’s Time

February, the shortest month of the year, is full of many celebrations, Valentine’s Day and Mardi Gras included.

But, it is also a month that honors a group of people who have been marginalized for so long–African Americans.

“We have, as a community, been positively contributing to the success of the United States for a very long time. Those contributions, however, are not always evident in what takes place in most American history classrooms,” said Lawson Ota, a teacher here at Mount Carmel. “Black History Month offers us the time to reflect on the fact that America has always been a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural society.”

And that’s the key. Black History is American History.

“Many African Americans count themselves amongst the descendants of slaves. The importation of slaves from Africa began to slow in the late 1700’s and late 1800’s. That having been said, many African Americans count their ancestors amongst the earliest Americans,” said Mr. Ota.

This idea that slaves are inherently American and should be treated as such is sort of a foundation for Black History Month. If we can agree that those who forcefully came here are American, then we must agree that their descendants are as well.

Even though the month is designed to promote the African American inclusion in our history, many people misunderstand it.

“Most people outside of the African American community believe that Black History Month places an emphasis on the contributions of black people at the expense of the contributions of others,” said Mr. Ota.

But this is not the case.

“Black History Month has always been about the inclusion of the black community in the story of America and not about the exclusion of other people,” said Mr. Ota.

He is definitely not alone in this opinion.

“The purpose is to show black excellence and so that we finally get the recognition that we finally deserve,” said senior Sarah Patch. “People don’t realize that a lot of black people from the past are the reason we have air conditions, toilettes, all the food that we have.”

When asked what the purpose of the month was, Camryn Dinvaut, a junior and FNHS president, responded, “To recognize African Americans and the contribution that they made to society.”

It’s that simple. But, to some, it doesn’t seem that way.

“There are a few people who don’t actually understand the purpose,” continued Camryn. “We live in a world that sometimes looks over black people and their accomplishments. So, it is important to tell young black people they can do this.”

Some of the misunderstanding can be seen through the promotion of “White History Month.” People feel that their race is being excluded by the inclusion of another. But that is not the case. Black History Month exists to complete the discussion of American history, which existed for decades simply as the story of white people.

“Our schools teach strictly white history. So why dedicate a month to celebrate something that is spoken about daily?” remarked student Claire Kittell.

“White History Month is all year long,” said Sha’lynde Smith. “Every time we have something that is just for us to empower our people, they try and come back and say that it racist.”

Even as Mount Carmel continues to recognize Black History Month and seek to increase and celebrate its diversity, the experience for black students can feel trying at times.

“I love Mount Carmel, but I guess sometimes it’s strange being in a predominately white school,” remarked Camryn Dinvaut.  “But I think it’s good because I can show people who have little experience with people like me who I am.”  

Patch also commented on her experience.

“Most of my black childhood being a minority in a majority, being in a predominately white school and it is just a different experience if I didn’t go here,” said Patch. “A lot of times we are stereotyped, and it is more in your face when you are surrounded by people who don’t look like you. The lifestyle is different.”

Despite the divisiveness that can be seen at any level of society, institutional or otherwise, there has been progress in the area of racial tensions.

“It has been interesting to see that the lines between cultures and ethnic groups are more blurred today than they have ever been in American history. A telltale sign of these blurred lines can be seen in my students taste in music,” explained Mr. Ota, “They are fans of many genres and artists of many different ethnic backgrounds.

“Despite what is said in the media, these are not the most divisive times in our countries history. The negative interactions that are taking place today are the most part the results of necessary and important conversations that would not have been had a decade ago.”

And these conversations must continue in order to further the inclusion of African Americans.

“In my opinion, African Americans are the most misunderstood ethnic group in the United States, even though ironically it is one of the oldest.” Mr. Ota. “Because African American history and culture are associated with some of the darkest parts of American history, many people do not make an effort to learn and associate themselves with African American history and culture.

“My daily life often brings me into contact with people who do not desire to and are ill-equipped to see the world from my perspective. This can lead to many challenges.”

The effort needs to be there. This is not one race’s problem. It’s a human problem.

“People need to brush up on their history. Not everyone understands it. People think racism is over, but it’s not,” said Camryn Dinvaut. “It’s still here. One group of people is not going to do it. It has to be everyone.”