Inclusive American History by Venessa Bowers MSW, LCSW

black history month

Every February we take a few moments to reflect on Black History. After all, this is the only time of the year that we have to really think about the historical contributions of African Americans to this nation. It’s sort of like the issue of paying attention to people who are homeless in the winter, because, well it’s cold. But here’s the thing – why do we only pay attention on designated times of caring. Do we really need only a month to think about Black History?

I think it is tragic that a month must be called out for people to stop and think about the contributions of African Americans to our national story. Because, let’s face it we couldn’t have American History without the contributions of African Americans. It simply could not happen and here’s why:

According to Henry Louis Gates, Jr.’s amazing documentary, The African Americans: Many River’s to Cross, hundreds of years of free, forced labor, the multitudes of nameless, faceless, people who died building this country deserve so much more than the cursory, perfunctory nod of the head in February. They built the country on their backs and they each one, had a story to tell, a contribution made, a family, a dream, and a wish. What they get is a month each year for us to say “oh yeah…black folks did do some cool things.”
You see, our collective history is about so much more than a few famous people that we dust off and trot out each year. We all know that Sojourner Truth, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and Fredrick Douglas were amazing people. These are the names we know. We forget that amazing people are contributing right now to our collective well-being. Each and every day, right outside our front doors folks are fighting, thinking, striving, dreaming for a better tomorrow for themselves, their children, your children, for the WE in us.

Isn’t it time that we vigilantly include African American history into our collectively-woven world-view? I can’t imagine having a “white history” month, because well, white history is the only history we recognize as unmarked – it is everywhere, all the time. It is also fundamentally untrue. History has always been written by the victors, the conquerors, the powerful. And because of this, by its very nature, because of who writes it, it is a deliberate lie. It is a lie steeped in generational guilt for atrocities committed against “the other.” It is a lie to cover the shame of people failing to intervene and protect people unlike them. It is a lie to protect us from the cold truth that this country, in all its splendor, was built with murder, hatred, violence, and marginalization. It’s a lie that is convenient because it does not challenge us. It’s a lie we all participate in until we decide we no longer will. We stop participating in the lie when we understand the toll our souls take for our silence.

It’s time to shift our thinking toward inclusivity and our actions toward collaboration. Because let’s face, white history, when it comes to African Americans, is morally and factually in question. Mix it up with the history of all people living in this part of the world, and it gets interesting and closer to the truth. Mix it up globally, and it’s fascinating and profound.

I’m ready to be fascinated. How about you?

Bright Blessings

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