Friday, January 29, 2010

Black History Month Is Racist

I mean, right?
There's no White History Month, and if there was, it would be called racist.
That's a double standard, isn't it?

This is what someone said when #Blackhistorymonth was trending on twitter the other day, and I all but came through the monitor. I hear people say impressively ignorant things like this, and I want to knock their blocks off.
Fortunately, my impulse control isn't terrible, and I managed to take a breath or two before I responded. I was simply trying to point out that his logic was lacking, and to share my thoughts on the matter. However, it apparently didn't occur to him that saying that on a TT might attract some strong responses. I was only one of several, and he started to get very defensive, saying he had nothing against black history month. Whether he has a problem with the idea or not is completely irrelevant, I was only responding to the statement he made.

It also reminded me how many people I have heard say things like this, and I decided to respond.

Questionable comment one: "Black history month is racist."

My thoughts: There are several definitions for racist, but I think the one people who say this are working on is 'based on racial intolerance' or 'the idea that one race is intrinsically superior to another.'
In no way is this true. It is not based on exclusion. No one is running around during February saying "Only study black history! White people suck!" and if they are, they are certainly not speaking for the collective. Black History Month was created as Black History Week, by a black teacher who noticed the severe lack of any mention of the achievements of African American individuals in the textbooks he was teaching out of. The idea being that those achievements are just as important as those of white individuals, not more so.

Questionable comment two: "White History Month would be called racist if there was one."

My thoughts: You're right, and it would be. This is like saying that the feminist movement is sexist because there is no 'masculinism' movement. This is really important, since there is such a lack in our society of rights for men. Come on.
Essentially, every month is white history month. There is no lack of coverage of the achievements of white people in America. Highlighting a specific month to focus on something that doesn't need extra attention to bring it to the same level as other similar topics has superiority complex written all over it. Aside from that, have you ever met someone that takes special pride in being white that doesn't think other races are inferior? Not to say such individuals do not exist, but I have never met one.

Questionable comment three: "But it's like a company hiring a black person for a job because he's black, not because he's good at the job." (direct quote)

My response: Setting aside a month to recognize accomplishments that do not get enough attention is completely different than giving someone preferential employment.
Also, if I am not mistaken, the idea behind affirmative action is that when presented with two potential employees with essentially the same level of qualifications, the employer should choose the individual that is part of the minority population.
I'm not saying that this is how it has been implemented, or that this is a good idea, I'm just saying that the basis for this remark is wobbly at best. In my opinion, giving a less skilled individual a job because they are a minority is counterproductive.

Questionable comment four: There shouldn't be a Black History Month anymore.

My response: I don't think that this month or any other month/day that focuses on the contributions made by under-represented populations/people to our culture should be gotten rid of until there is a more wholesome approach to the inclusion of said groups/individuals in "American History."

Questionable comment five: There should be other months like this for other groups' histories.

My response: Do it.
If you think there is a need, get people together, and get it started. Even if we are talking Eastern European history. Get support, and get it started, in the same way BHM was started. If there really is a need, you will find the necessary support. Things like this don't happen magically, over night. It takes work.
The problem here, of course, is that most of the time when someone says this, they have absolutely no interest in making it happen. They are just trying to make a point. And failing.

If nothing else, perhaps instead of seeing BHM as divisive, we could all just take February as an opportunity to have more mature open and honest dialogue about the subject of race, without being so uptight at the prospect of offending each other. Those people who are willing to have such conversations with open minds, without spewing hate and intolerance, that is.

Find out more about Black History Month's Origin


  1. Well. Clearly that little shit on Twitter got under your skin. It is a shame that so many people want the right to an opinion but not the responsibility to present the merits of their argument. The Idea behind freedom of speech was to allow for people to express arguments. Not just the summary conclusion of opinion. Arguments include a valid premise. Opinions do not. Rights without responsibilities are empty. They are 'take' without 'contribute'.

  2. @Craig, I am the "little shit" you speak of. And I'd like to make it clear I do not think black history month is racist.

    I live in the UK where we have a month for black history every October. But I was merely pointing out how differently people would react to a white history month compared to the black history month, because to be honest they are basically the same thing. Neither are racist and I think black history month is a good idea because it doesn't get much coverage in the UK school system where I study. And thus, I don't think we need a white history month.

    I was talking about a hypothetical situation. Regarding some of these comments that I've apparently made, I'm pretty sure I didn't say most of them. The direct quote I did say, but only when attempting to explain what positive discrimination is.

    My comment was intended to make a stab at UK political correctness where society is terrified to offend anyone to a point where it removes the word "pig" from nursery rhymes in case we might offend Muslims. Nothing more, nothing less.

  3. at no point did mark say black history month is racist. i was the one on twitter saying that it is racist so if you want to moan about anyone, feel free to do so about me. i wouldn't recommend it though.

  4. See, it's not so nice when people gang up on you over something that is your opinion... Except this time we actually know each other from attending probably the best school in the UK...

    And the reason I got "defensive" over my comments is because I was being persecuted for things I hadn't said.

  5. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  6. I said that your comment got me thinking about other things I have heard about bhm, and attributed only what you did say to you... the direct quote.
    I wasn't "persecuting" anyone. I never said a word about you as a person, nor did I get rude or mean.
    I responded to you and shared my opinion, and
    then commented on the subject in a broader fashion. If you want to keep making this all about you and make snarky comments, be my guest. However, it is remarkably self centered, and if your aim is to hurt my feelings, you're wasting your breath.

  7. For the record, the last comment from my account wasn't me, but was on the behalf of someone unable to comment. They're actually a different person.

    The fact is, we're actually talking from the perspectives of two different countries. I actually explained the general situation of how the UK would react, and the school history system here to another American and they actually went on to agree with me. So I think you've misinterpreted my comment, but through no fault of your own.

    The direct quote was taken massively out of context of the conversation.

    I wasn't actually being ignorant at all. You agreed that a white history month would be called racist, and I'm assuming you agree that a month dedicated to any race and its history is not racist at all. Those are the only points I was making, in an attempt to make a stab at UK political correctness. Any meaning of my comment other than those is a result of misinterpretation.

    As a matter of fact, from my own experience there is not as much white history as you think in the school system here. When I studied history, I studied advances in medicine from all over the world, including Islamic, Greek and Romans; and then about native Indians vs White Americans.

  8. In response to the repeated comments about taking things out of context/blowing them out of proportion, here is the twitter convo that inspired the blog post in its entirety, except for the original comment made by Mark, which I cannot locate, but was something along the lines of 'If there was a white history month it would be called racist.'

    BgDoseOfReality: @Mark_Attree Impressively ignorant. Clearly the prevalence of education on "white history" is part of why #blackhistorymonth is important.

    Mark_Attree: @BgDoseOfReality I would be in favor of more black history in the UK school system, but I'm just saying that it would be called racist if there was a white history month. I don't actually mind either way, I'm just pointing out a slight double-standard.

    BgDoseOfReality: @Mark_Attree That's like saying feminism creates a dbl standard bc there's no "masculinism" movement. Under-representation creates the need.

    Mark_Attree: @BgDoseOfReality But it's like a company hiring a black person for a job because he's black, not because he's good at the job.It's different.

    BgDoseOfReality: @Mark_Attree Recognizing the importance of history is FAR diff than giving someone preferential job opps. Emphasis: AS important, not MORE.

    Mark_Attree: @BgDoseOfReality You've taken what I said hugely out of proportion. All I said was that IF a white history month was created, it would get called racist. I have no problem with a black history month, at all.

    A black history month is accepted, when a white history month would not be. Neither are more or less racist than each other. So it is definitely a double standard.

    BgDoseOfReality: @Mark_Attree I don't think you do have a problem with it. I simply disagree that it is a double standard, and am telling you why.

  9. Well like I said, and you ignored: we are both commenting on the matter from different perspectives and it seems that England would react differently to it. Hence why the vast majority of people who agree entirely with my comment are English, and the vast majority who disagree are American.

    I apologise for any offence I or the person I was commenting on behalf of have caused, and I am growing tired of an argument which boils down to a matter of a difference in our opinion which both of us feel strongly about.

    And as a final thing I will probably ever say to you: after looking on your twitter page when this argument first started, I agree that Justin Bieber is the Antichrist.

  10. Who's Justin Bieber? Should I be concerned?

  11. Oh yeah. Please do come visit for a weekend. I'll put you to work doing all the chores I keep letting myself off the hook for. Bridgie said you were feeling under the weather. Hope your are on the mend. I also hear congrats are in order. xo

  12. @ Mark. By stating that if there was a white history month it would be considered rasist you are making strong inferences that you feel that a black history month is a trivial undertaking that smacks of preferential treatment. Given that white history is the primary focus for the other eleven months of the year I would argue that white history, and therefore white culture, is given a disproportionately high level of focus in the US. That is in fact racist. A white history month would be OVERTLY rasist. But you and I both know what you ment by your original snide remark. You spoke without thinking. Remember Mark, Look, Listen, Think- Then talk.

  13. Please do not patronise me. I thought about what I said, but in the context of where I am from. Therefore, I accept that I didn't think fully about it, because it was wrong to tag it.

    My remark was not snide. And it was about political correctness in the UK. I have many people on twitter from the UK who completely agree with what I said, including several black people, because my comment when taken in context of the UK is a reasonable observation.

    From the perspective of the UK, white history isn't overly preferential, it only really featured in a small part of the history I have studied. And I know that the history students at my school are studying history in Europe, e.g. the two world wars. Because the UK, where I live is a part of Europe. Clearly the situation is very different in the US.

    The problem with this argument is that I don't think a potential white history month or the current black history are racist, whereas you do. This is just a difference in opinion and perspective. Neither of us are right. I did not imply that a black history month "smacks of preferential treatment." I think that the way that the UK would react differently implies this. I don't think a white history month would be racist, but I think it would be unnecessary.

  14. @Franny If you have been fortunate enough to avoid being biebered, I will not inflict him upon you. I'm mildly envious that you've avoided exposure to the "pop sensation" with helmet hair.

    @Mark I wasn't ignoring our differing perspectives, I was just trying to let the conversation die. My aim was discussion, not argument, and things got off into a direction I wasn't interested in.
    I'm not familiar with what it is like to live in the UK, especially as far as political climate is concerned, so I will not pretend to be. The input and exposure have been rather interesting.
    As a final point of clarification: I don't think that a hypothetical white history month in an unspecified location would necessarily BE racist, and I don't think the idea inherently is, but I agree with your statement in that I think it would be perceived as racist. Speaking as a US Citizen, I can certainly see why it would be perceived that way, as it almost undoubtedly would be if such a thing happened here. Again I don't live in the UK so I can't remark concerning what it would be like there.
    I appreciate your participation in the conversation, as well as your apology. No offense taken, and none intended.

  15. Wow...the comments got fraught. I will couch my opinions as just the observation who majored in Cultural Anthropology; just opinions on human tnedencies, no emphatic "This Is So." I don't want to reawaken any sleeping giants!

    It IS racist, you're right! At least, in that it is divisive as it pertains to the idea of different "races". It separates the idea of one people from another, which is a little screwed up as far as the unspoken message that gives to the kids who are told to learn about it in school; but it is one of the few ways we can ensure that that side of our history is told.

    What I think some people mistake is the idea of bigotry as the same as classificatory - if we classify people, we're bigots, and that's bad. That's why white guilt has lasted so long and fruited such bizarre things as "black history month". All people classify; and I don't just mean the US, or the West; I mean people in Papua New Guinea, I mean people in Siberian Russia. We love to classify, especially in binary terms like hot/cold, good/bad. It's a human habit, and makes us feel like assholes because we're essentializing somebody.

    Binary classifications aren't really helpful past a really basic level; safe/dangerous, etc. But it's an ingrained mental habit that enabled us to survive, so it's hard to break. Don't fight it; rise above it. Realizing that you ARE thinking about someone you know very little in terms of the one thing you DO know about them is an invitation for the thoughtful to go learn more, and leave those more basic assessments behind. It's become an awkward topic for both sides, but in actually admitting that and moving on we can at least refrain from perpetuating it.

    FUN FACT: Anthropologically speaking, there's only one, singular "human" race. Because we can produce sexually viable offspring from the coupling of any human ethnicity on the Earth, we are one race. Other "races" would have to be like Elves or Orcs or something - things that can't breed viable offspring. (Like mules, which are sterile, and therefore not viable as the product of a horse and donkey, separate races.) So saying someone is racist, in that they are upset about someone being another ethnicity, means you are actually using a term that is wrong and bigoted because you are the one demoting that third person to being non-human! know, racist!

    Ahh, word use. :)

  16. @Kana
    I just had a conversation the other night about how the concept of 'race' is made up.

    I revel in semantics.

    Thank you for reading and commenting.