Hearing that was enough for the whole class to turn their heads towards our sixth grade history teacher. It was such a baffling statement for us to hear, especially when she was teaching us Black and Brown kids. Our looks of confusion vanished once she elaborated, stating that Black History Month is used as an alternative to avoid year-round integration of Black history into curricula.
While I couldn’t imagine what she meant at the time, it certainly has clicked for me now. Many months have been created to increase the visibility of minority groups — such as Pride Month and Hispanic Heritage Month — but they may do more harm than good. For some, these months foster a sense of complacency and performative activism. We’ve normalized the meager acknowledgment of the BIPOC community through reposting “woke” Instagram infographics and buying social justice merch instead of actively fighting for social change. The triumphs, trials and tribulations of BIPOC Americans can never be encapsulated in just four weeks.
Not a day goes by this month where Rosa Parks, Maya Angelou and Jackie Robinson haven’t been mentioned. Although they’re all notable figures who have created strides in their respective fields, there’s no doubt that we are selective with the people we talk about. The overemphasis of certain minority figures creates an oversimplified, idealized presentation of history, leaving others who don’t fit our desired molds to go unrecognized.
There’s a reason why Martin Luther King, Jr. is taught more often in schools than Malcolm X. King reinforces the principles of civil disobedience and passivity while Malcolm frequently voiced his hatred against the white man and permissibility of violence. King’s words are much easier to swallow than Malcolm’s. As a pastor, he could more easily appeal to the White Christian households across the nation rather than Malcolm who along with his race faced an added barrier of Islamophobia. We’ve immortalized King’s speeches through quotes because we favor his words of amnesty over Malcolm’s words of retaliation.
The responsibility of social justice on the oppressed is a heavy weight to carry. We discuss our struggles when we are framed in a positive light and erase the contributions of controversial figures to avoid defaming our cause. Our infatuation with Black struggle stories leads to the over glorification of systemic racism, ignoring the fact that we shouldn’t have to beg and fight to be treated as human beings.
I wish that the upbeat energy we have this month lasts beyond Feb. 28 and that we in the Black community use this as a time to grow, to reflect on our internal biases and the implications of our actions. But most of all, I wish we could sit down and finally ask ourselves, what is Black History Month really about?
Abiba Biao is a senior at Achievement First Amistad High School in New Haven, CT.