For over 40 years, schools across the United States have honored Americans of African descent by celebrating Black History Month. Once a tribute to black American heroes and heritage, Black History Month is being transformed by Black Lives Matter’s “Week of Action.”
“Black Lives Matter at School Day” began in Seattle in October 2016. Then it morphed into the BLM at School National Week of Action, held during the first week of February to kick off Black History Month.
I had initially intended to contrast these two views of observing Black History Month. However, after researching what some conservative black cultural leaders have to say, I changed my thesis. The question isn’t how we should acknowledge Black History Month, but should we?
Origin of Black History Month
Carter Godwin Woodson (1875-1950), son of former slaves, became the second American of African descent to earn a doctorate from Harvard University. While studying for his history degree, he noticed that few black people appeared in American history texts. Woodson sought to change that. He said, “If a race has no history, it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated.”
Woodson wrote several books and edited a magazine that covered significant historical contributions made by black Americans. He and Jesse E. Moorland co-founded the Association of the Study of Negro Life and History (now the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, or the ASALH) to promote black Americans’ heritage.
In 1926, Woodson with the ASALH started “Negro History Week.” He chose a week in February because the 14th was Fredrick Douglass’s birthday and the 12th was Abraham Lincoln’s. The purpose of this week was to encourage school systems to incorporate black history into their curricula.
During the Civil Rights movement, the celebration of black history changed from a week to a month. At that time, an 8th-grade history book only mentioned two black people after the Civil War. People believed students needed to know more about historical black Americans and established Black History Month to increase their knowledge. President Gerald Ford decreed Black History Month nationally as part of the bicentennial celebrations in 1976. President Jimmy Carter formally recognized Black History Month in 1978 as an annual event.
Celebrating Black History
Traditional American education drew from the classical educational philosophy of studying the good, beautiful, and true. This includes training students in virtue by reading about historical figures who demonstrated personal responsibility. Woodson, in his book, The Miss-education of the Negro, pointed out that American education instructed blacks to feel inferior and to become dependent on white people. He challenged blacks to “do for themselves.”
By providing role models of self-sufficient, morally responsible people, teachers can inspire students to a higher standard of conduct and “do for themselves.” To learn about notable Americans of African descent, see American Minute, Wallbuilders, and PragerU. Also, see PragerU’s Is America Racist? playlist.
For elementary children, I recommend A Kid’s Guide to African American History by Nancy I. Sanders. Not only does this book contain over 70 learning activities, but it also offers numerous short articles on history and culture, starting from Africa during the Middle Ages to the present.
Hijacked by BLM
Some schools have cast aside traditional Black History Month and have replaced it with Black Lives Matter at School. Even the ASALH has adopted the BLM worldview. Desiring to transform society, BLM uses its “Week of Action” as one way to achieve this goal.
In contrast to classical education’s focus on the good, beautiful, and true, BLM embraces a false revisionist history that centers on the bad, oppressive, and relative. It rejects all the good that America has done for the world.
Instead, BLM views US history through the Marxist lens of oppression and believes Western Civilization, people with European heritage, and traditional American values oppress people of color. This worldview, called Critical Race Theory, runs contrary to a biblical worldview. Everyone is lumped into competing groups.
BLM adherents teach these topics: structural racism, intersectional black identities, black history, and antiracist movements and in BLM’s 13 Principles:
- Monday: Restorative Justice, Empathy, Loving Engagement
- Tuesday: Diversity, Globalism
- Wednesday: Trans Affirming, Queer Affirming, and Collective Value
- Thursday: Intergenerational, Black Families, and Black Villages
- Friday: Black Women and Unapologetically Black
The Week of Action also has a list of demands:
- End zero tolerance: restorative justice in all schools.
- Hire black teachers.
- Mandate black history and ethnic studies.
- Fund counselors not cops.
To see more about this program, see BLM at School.
Some of these principles are worth encouraging. However, BLM’s call to fight racism serves as a Trojan horse to usher in social Marxism and the sexual orientation/gender identity belief system. Neither should be taught in schools. Marxists are responsible for the deaths of nearly a hundred million people. Normalizing sexual confusion encourages children to consider unhealthy lifestyles, violating the educational goal of optimal health.
While Woodson encouraged black Americans to develop personal responsibility, BLM teaches victimhood (also see “Victim Worship”).
In addition, the BLM movement avoids the most critical issue facing the black community: fatherlessness. Approximately three out of four black children grow up without a father. Social science has determined that children raised in traditional families will more likely prosper, whereas children without fathers will more likely be poor.
BLM rejects this God-ordained social structure that benefits all. Instead, they say, “We disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear-family-structure requirement by supporting each other as extended families and ‘villages’ that collectively care for one another.”
People around the world, including Africans, respect family. I don’t see how BLM can call the nuclear family a Western-only structure. They hate it because family relationships are the antithesis to Marxist doctrine.
The Intolerance of BLM
When reporting on the Seattle Public Schools (SPS) Week of Action this February, radio talk show host Jason Rantz asked how they included other points of view. An SPS representative directed him to their Strategic Plan and said:
Generally speaking, the alternative–“the competing point of view”—has been the predominant viewpoint for several hundred years in the US and much of the western hemisphere. In other words, it has been the status quo. Seattle Public Schools is working to dramatically improve academic and life outcomes for students of color by disrupting the legacies of racism in our education system.
SeattleTimes Ed Lab asked a few students why schools should teach the BLM materials. A junior at Lynnwood’s Meadowdale High School, Chiwetalu Ekwueme, said:
School is the first place where students can learn about the Black Lives Matter movement. School is where we grow up. … That’s where you’re supposed to learn about Black lives. It’s important to help students feel safe, especially in a society that constantly pushes them down to the point where they don’t feel safe.
But not all feel safe. BLM teaches that all whites are irredeemably racist through the concepts of “white supremacy” and “white privilege.” This belief system discriminates against people of European descent and blames them for sins they aren’t responsible for. This is wrong. Just as slavery and Jim Crow are wrong. And two wrongs do not make a right.
Furthermore, BLM despises the positive qualities of Western culture that built the modern world. These attributes are viewed as part of “white culture” and racist: rugged individualism, self-reliance (which Woodson encouraged), competition, protecting property, being polite, hard work as the key to success, time management, delayed gratification, Christianity, and God.
Even mathematics has been declared a product of white supremacy.
The study of history, including black history, should explore what really happened in the past—the good, the bad, and the ugly. Students should be encouraged to emulate the good and steer clear of mistakes and bad behavior. BLM glorifies the bad, ugly, and false and tears down its opponents.
Authentic History Without Hyphenation
Some conservative voices in the black community reject the notion of Black History Month. They emphasize that we are all Americans, not hyphenated ones. Not Irish-American, Japanese-American, not African-American. Simply American.
Author and talk show host Larry Elder criticizes the observance. We’re all Americans, he says. Black history is American history.
Blacks are Americans. We have been here from the beginning of this country, we fought in every war, and we are as American as anybody else except with the possibility of Native Americans. And so I find the whole thing kind of condescending.
He stated in another interview, “When will Black History Month be…history?”
Apart from the bizarre notion that educators should set aside one month to salute the historical achievements of one race apart from and above the historical achievements of other races, Black History Month appears to omit a lot of black history.
He listed the following missing historical facts.
- Leftists forget that slavery has existed throughout time. More whites were enslaved by the Ottoman Empire than blacks in the US.
- Most civil rights leaders opposed affirmative action.
- FDR’s New Deal regulations on business caused unskilled laborers (who often were black) to lose jobs. According to the Cato Institute, about half a million jobs were lost through the anti-competition regulations.
- Anti-gun laws began as a way to prevent blacks from owning guns.
- Civil rights leaders such as Frederick Douglass opposed immigration, legal and illegal, because immigrants took jobs from blacks. Coretta Scott King wrote a letter to Congress to maintain penalties against businesses that hired illegal immigrants.
Economist and social theorist Thomas Sowell doesn’t care for Black History Month either, saying its celebration should be called “the sins of the white people” month.
Those black achievements which did not involve fighting the sins of white people get little attention during Black History Month. Indeed, many of those achievements undermine the blanket excuse that white sins are what prevent blacks from accomplishing more. How many people have heard of Paul Williams, who became a prominent black architect long before the civil rights revolution, or about successful black writers in the 19th century?
He went on to tell of Dunbar High School for blacks in Washington, DC. From 1870 to 1955, they sent graduates to college. This school performed better than many of the white schools in DC. But its achievements are ignored because it doesn’t fit the narrative and destroys the excuses made for blacks.
Another big problem with Black History Month is its narrowness. You cannot understand even your own history if that is the only history you know. Some explanations of what has happened in your history might sound plausible within the framework of just one people’s history, but these explanations can collapse like a house of cards if you look at the same factors in the histories of other groups, other countries, and other eras.
As Elder pointed out, students today are not taught that slavery has existed throughout time. It’s not unique to the US. In fact, right now, approximately 40.3 million people live as slaves.
Moreover, conflicts between different people groups aren’t unique either. Around the world, people are killing each other because of religious or tribal differences. In many nations, certain people groups are classified as second-class citizens. This hasn’t been true in America since the 1960s. But American students don’t know this.
Conservative Republic YouTuber
To get an average conservative black perspective, I’ve included YouTuber Conservative Republic’s video called “Black History Month and the Tribalism of Race: Honoring Thomas Sowell.” This young man of African descent called Black History Month the month of tribalism.
He explains that the Left has created tribalism by race and wokeness. Rejecting the systematic racism diatribe, the YouTuber states that America doesn’t have a systematic problem but a cultural problem. A problem that the activists need to keep alive, so they have something to blame. This month of focusing on one people group divides the nation.
Instead of recognizing Black History Month, or a Hispanic Heritage Month, etc., and dividing Americans into competing factions, let’s focus on what unites us—our constitutional heritage. Yes, we need to include individuals from all ethnic groups and socio-economic backgrounds in US history. But we should include them for the significance of their historical achievements, not according to their skin color.
E Pluribus Unum.
Lorinda, this is a well researched and important perspective. As is usually the case, most critics don’t have a clear understanding of the position they are critiquing. Black Lives Matter was far from the beginning of White supremacy or white privilege becoming a thing. However, I strongly agree with your emphasis on the role of Slaves and their descendants in this country. For example, building the capitol and the white house. Creating all of the furniture, tools, spinning and making cloth, not to mention picking the cotton that made cloth affordable. One of my favorite African American scientist is Neil Degrasse Tyson.
I’m curious about an educational philosophy that believes that children should be educated on the good the true and the beautiful. Would you point me to the philosophers you reference?
The idea of White supremacy and White privilege are misunderstood and misrepresented by many of the authors who write about it. It comes across that all white people are to blame. That’s not the point. We can discuss this at a later point. It deserves more than I can give you now. I’ve watched two films lately on PBS. One is The Black Church. The other is The African Americans, with Louis Gates. Here’s some information about the series. It is decidedly not marxist. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_African_Americans:_Many_Rivers_to_Cross.
It does nothing for anyone to deny the oppression of Black people that continues today, Lorinda. This has nothing to do with Marxism. Marxism is being thrown up as a shield to delegitimize many issues. Even though the insurrection on the Capitol was conducted, planned and organized by White Supremacists. The effect was not only disenfranchized Black People but almost cost all of those who voted our democracy by trying to hijack the legitimate election. White Supremacy hurts everyone.
Thanks for your comments.
The educational philosophy I referred to was classical education, which was taught in the West for over a thousand years. It was abandoned for progressive education in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Several homeschoolers and private schools have revived the educational style. The phrase the good, the beautiful, and the true is often used in literature about classical education. I explored that educational philosophy, among others, before I started homeschooling.
“Literature consists of a study of the exemplary texts of Western culture—those works that best represent the main lines of thought about the true, the good, and the beautiful. By calling it “Western” culture, we do not mean to exclude the texts of other cultures which have also been accounted great, since one of the unique features of Western culture is its inquisitiveness concerning other cultures. Over the centuries, other works have made their way into the Western consciousness and have been valued and studied as works that can give us insight into the nature of God, man, and the world” (“What is Education?” by Martin Cothran in the “Classical Teacher.” https://www.memoriapress.com/articles/what-is-education/).
When you say that white supremacy and white privilege are misunderstood and misrepresented by many authors who write about it, how did you come to that conclusion?
By the classical education you mean education that ignores those historical realities that only those of European descent were recognized as persons and those “savages” who were colonized were not recognized not as persons but as interesting curiosities to be studied. That is the root of the world view of white supremacy. That is exactly how classical archeologists and anthropologists approached cultures where European monarchs were establishing colonies. What was recognized by Woodson and others was that those who were colonized were persons equal to their European colonizers in every way. That is the objection to the classical worldview particularly within the Black Community and those you refer to as progressives. There is nothing Marxist about seeing enslaved people as persons. Nor is there anything Marxist about commiserating with Black Americans about how dehumanization in all its forms has crippled the Black community while it has also made them stronger and wiser and more compassionate than their white enslavers. If you truly want to educate children about what is good, and beautiful you have to also equally teach what is true. And what is true is that all humans have the right to equal access to those tools necessary for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. While we all see the world in the classical form, Whites privileged over People of Color. We continue to pass along that worldview unless we are consciously working to change our unconscious deeply ingrained biases. We all have them. We can all change them if we will only acknowledge that they are there.