When I worked as a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Director I had a Caucasian student question an African American (Black) student about why we have Black History Month. The first student (Caucasian) asked the other how he would feel if we had a “White History Month?” As the African American student relayed the information to me, I thought, wow, is student number one serious, do they not understand why there is a need for “Black History Month?” After some serious reflection I realized that what student number one thought wasn’t as abnormal as I had hoped. Oftentimes when things don’t impact you, you don’t understand why it is important to others, that’s part of privilege. When I spoke with student number one about his statement about “White History Month,” I explained to him that in reality we celebrate white history 365 days a year in America.
I shared with him that one of the reasons we celebrate “Black History Month” is because everything around us is not geared/focused or relevant to the “Black Experience in America.” Daily African Americans are in spaces where they are in the minority, they don’t see themselves represented in leadership roles within organizational settings or in the media, at least not always positively. Think about it, how many hours of television can you watch before you see an African American in a starring role? Do you see African Americans (plural) in leadership roles within your workplace? What do you know about the “Black Experience” in America if you are not living that life daily? While I wish there wasn’t differences in experiences surrounding race, I would be naive to make that statement.
I hear people say, “I don’t see color,” which is odd to me, because I do. We all do! Although race is a social construct it has serious implications for our experiences in different spaces. Familiarity is real and people gravitate towards those who look like them and share similar interest. We see “Mercy” often shown to those in the “in-group” and disregard for those who are in the “out-group.” As a society we do not live in a vacuum. We celebrate “Black History Month” because we need those in other groups to recognize and understand what African Americans have contributed to this country. We celebrate in hopes of educating the masses about our relevance, our history, our culture and our experiences. We celebrate because we need others to understand our humanity.