• Bendriel Oniyama

Africanism Disguised in The Modern World

All of the wonderful inventions and cultural elements Africans brought to America are

partly now recognized because of one man’s dedication: Carter G. Woodson, the founder of

Black History Month. In the early twentieth century, Woodson was determined to have the

“accomplishments of African Americans” recognized and highlighted by mainstream America. And, this should go without saying, but mainstream white America to be more exact. The reason Woodson was so determined to have this recognition is to avoid the very whitewashing that exists today despite things like Black History Month and Indigenous Peoples Day. Whitewashing, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary is to “alter in a way that favors, features, or caters to white people.” This is exactly what it sounds like: a systematic erasure of people of color’s contributions made to the United States’ culture, economy, and social life. This was and still is incredibly important so that firstly, history can be as accurate as possible, and secondly, so young, impressionable African-American children can entertain dreams of being the next Madam C.J. Walker, Garrett Morgan, or President Barack Obama.

Black History month actually began as Negro History Week in 1926. Woodson had started off by creating the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. His goal was to make sure African-Americans during his time knew their roots, knew how America grew into the nation it was by using their ancestors and purposefully writing them out of the history books. Or, more appropriately, never including them in the history books to begin with. Woodson wanted to shed light on what he believed was a truly “balanced history.” Today, the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History has persisted into and become known as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH). The release of the racist 1915 movie The Birth of a Nation was Woodson’s true catalyst. He was appalled at the blatant anti-Black sentiment and negative nationalism portrayed in the film. Not only did it endanger the lives of African-Americans throughout the country by glorifying the Ku Klux Klan, but it boldly misrepresented African-Americans’ place in the American society. That is what led Woodson to Negro History Week beginning February 7, 1926 and culminating on February 14, 1926 —and eventually to Black History Month.

Black History Month was chosen to facilitate a better, open, and honest relationship between Blacks and whites in America; one that shed light on the importance of both races to America’s stability at the time (and even still to this day). Negro History Week became so popular that Woodson started and continued for ten years the Negro History Bulletin. The Bulletin was where African-American teachers looking to add Black history into their curriculums could turn to for both facts and inspiration. By the 1960s, Black and white teachers alike were recognizing Negro History Week, and mainstream historians began to include the Black narrative as well. Fast forward to 1976 when ASALH celebrated its bicentennial by officially starting Black History Month. That same year President Gerald Ford told Americans to also recognize the new “holiday” so-to-speak. However, Black History Month’s official start on the federal level came two years later after President Jimmy Carter made the month-long celebration official.

Unfortunately, no matter how hard African-Americans may try, they have been and likely will always be questioned at every turn. The election of Barack Obama to the oval office in 2008, the first ever Black President of the United States, spawned a new debate about the relevance of Black History Month. Critics made the argument that the month had more than achieved its goals with the election of a Black man to the most powerful office in the country. As the argument went, the history of African-Americans was definitely known at this point, and Black people were also officially getting the recognition they had demanded. However, this mindset is precisely the problem.

Every other president in America’s history has been white; out of the current count of 46

as of 2021, President Barack Obama was and still is the only one. Those who claim Black

History Month is no longer necessary because African-Americans had to come out in full force two elections in a row to get a Black man elected are being incredibly shortsighted. The bigger picture here is that African Americans had to fight so hard just to see the slightest amount of representation of their race in power. This is not how it should be. White people do not have to do anything extra to get another white person elected into any single federal office in America: the norm is white democratic representation. But that is not how it should be. Woodson was far ahead of his time when he envisioned Black History Month and he was doing the nation a favor then and now.

America needs to open its eyes to not only how it has profited off Black marginalization, but more importantly how it still is profiting without giving due credit. The reason the African-American population is always so “riled up” about white usage of things like Black hairstyles and African-inspired clothing is because of a lack of serious recognition on the parts of white America. Granted, white America has come a long way in (mostly) understanding and accepting the role Africans have played in creating this country, but what is still being missed is how lingering traditions and cultural values still exist and are being enjoyed without the honor they deserve. It is amazing that Black people get a whole month to celebrate themselves, but the truth be told is that a month is nowhere near enough when things like African-inspired storytelling, art, and food are used all year round by every race in the United States.

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