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Black History Month: Segregating History

Updated on March 17, 2015

Lewis Howard Latimer, a black man, invented the lightbulb. Thomas Edison altered the design and patented it, but Latimer is the one who invented the carbon filaments.

The whitewashing of history in this country is quite a powerful thing. But, it’s okay, because for 28 out of 365 days, or one month of the year (the shortest month, I might add) we get to hear a little bit of black history mixed in with our white history. The question is, should there be a black history month? Before answering, let’s consider what would happen if there was no black history month. In short, no one would ever hear about any of the accomplishments of African-Americans. When, besides February, do you ever hear about the contributions of people of color? In this sense, a month of black history is better than no black history, but it is indeed a sad society if these are truly our only two options.

Garret Augustus Morgan, a black man, invented the precursor to (what would eventually become) the traffic light.

It is a mistake to think that the way to educate people about the accomplishments of African Americans is to cram it all into one month and then spend the other eleven completely ignoring them. Rather, these facts should simply be taught as the part of history that they are. There is no “black history” or “white history,” there is only history, and truly teaching history involves teaching all aspects of it.

Thomas Mensah, a black man, helped pioneer the field of fiber optics.

Age of the Machine

Leon wakes up in a land about which he knows nothing. His only guide is a person about whom he knows even less. Quickly finding himself involved in the politics of this new universe, Leon's main concern remains simply getting home. However, things change, and Leon soon finds that returning home is anything but simple. If Leon is going to get back to his universe, he'll have to first discover the truth about this one. But he'll have to hurry: lies are in high supply, time is not.

Age of the Machine

Age of the Machine: Leon (Volume 2)
Age of the Machine: Leon (Volume 2)

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Where are the Women?

One thing I noticed about this article as I was writing it, was that there was a distinct lack of women. I did not do this intentionally, or even subconsciously. It was because there wasn't much information about black women in history. There was some, sure, but none only a few, and none of them I felt were really the types I needed to best makes my point. So, what gives?

Simply put, the struggle for women is just as real on the macro level of all humans as it is in the micro level of a specific race. Women are not given equal opportunity whether white, yellow, brown, red, black, green or blue. So, when researching black history, as with researching general history, you will find a distinct lack of women. That's why women's history month (March) is so important. In fact, I dare say that from this point forward, women's history month may be more important to society than black history month. Blacks are just finally starting to get a sniff of our history told. At least everyone is definitely aware of black history month. People don't even know there is a women's history month. And at least people know some names of civil rights leaders. Without using Google, tell me right now two female leaders of the women's suffrage movement. Could you do it? Could you even name one? If you could, good for you, but even I can't do it. However, I certainly know names like MLK and Malcolm X.

So, please excuse the lack of women, but I contend that it is society's fault, not my own.

As long as I’m on the topic of black history, there’s a few other things I would like to address. I didn’t see this as much last year as I normally do, and hopefully I won’t see it at all this year, but February always tends to bring out the racists. You know, the ones who walk around asking, “If there’s a black history month, why isn’t there a white history month?” Of course, the answer is because, as it stands now, white history is taught exclusively throughout the year. March through January are seemingly devoted to only white history, and February is the one month where some black history is mercifully mixed in.

The expression, “The Real McCoy” comes from Elijah McCoy, a black man who invented an automatic lubricator to allow trains to run faster and longer.

And how is black history mixed in? Not in the schools, that’s for sure. The last time I took a history class in high school, I think we were on the topic of WWI when February rolled around. No mention of black history at all. Rather, you might hear pieces of black history for a few seconds on the nightly news, or in our current age, someone may share a link on Facebook. I’m not opposed to these things, but they are not enough. Imagine if the Revolutionary War was only taught through throwaway segments from Brian Williams.

Daniel Hale Williams, a black man, pioneered open-heart surgery.


Should There Be a "Black History Month"?

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In fact, it is in school that it is most important to hear black history (or, as I have pointed out, simply “history”). I have found an unfortunate pattern that whenever I try to tell people—white people—that a black man invented the lightbulb, for example, they give me skeptical looks. As if black people just make this stuff up. As if history is only official if it’s white people talking about other white people. There seems to be this implicit idea that black history is somehow illegitimate. Schools, however, have an air of authority to them, and therefore, they must change their curriculum to teach a more complete (a more accurate) version of history if black history is to be thought of as more legitimate. Schools must teach a history that includes black, brown, white, men, women and everything in between. I’ve yet to take a history course where the primary focus is not white men—which was one of my problems with our own school’s Western Tradition Courses, which intentionally make no attempt to stray from this.

So, let us return to the original question. Should there be a Black History Month? No. There should simply be history. Our society teaches a segregated version of history, and it’s past time to integrate.

Lee Camp on Racism

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I am a writer. I have substantial experience in journalism, and my passion is for creative writing. When it comes to writing, I've dabbled in everything.

I am a reader, a hockey player, a part-time musician, and an English major/Political Science minor at Canisius College.


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