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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

March 26, 2017   |   Ithaca, NY

Opinion

Editorial: Black history is integral to understanding US history

With the transition from February to March comes an end to a 28-day span — out of a 365-day year — celebrating black history. During Black History Month, the U.S. recognizes black history, art and culture, in addition to acknowledging the distinct experiences of black people living in the U.S.

But the “ending” of Black History Month should not be the end to recognizing black history and culture from the past and in the present. People in the U.S. should consistently learn about the culture and history of black people because the history and stories of black people in this country are intrinsically connected to the whole history of the U.S. Black history is U.S. history, and it is intellectually dishonest to pretend that the two can be separated.

It has been the norm for U.S. culture to maintain a Eurocentric focus. To an extent, this Eurocentrism also influences citizens to analyze culture, and even history, through a whitewashed lens. Yet this Eurocentric gaze is contradictory to the very diversity that exists in the fabric of American culture. Whitewashed U.S. history — a phenomenon that pervades history textbooks in schools today — ignores the experiences of the many groups that have both contributed to and been victimized by the country’s loud majority. It produces a message that black history, Asian-American history and Latin American history are secondary to Euro-American history. It also perpetuates the racial hierarchy that makes the experiences of white Americans the norm and relegates marginalized groups to a second-class status.

Black history, and the histories of other marginalized groups in the U.S., should not be relegated to small ethnic studies departments in colleges, especially when white European history is presented as the standard from the moment a child enters a history classroom. U.S. history should be reflective of the diverse array of experiences that make up the country’s culture, and American history should naturally be multicultural.
There is no denying that the U.S. is at a point of heightened political and racial tensions. There are many misconceptions and many stereotypes, but not enough understanding. But people in this country, especially white people, cannot continue pretending like they can absolve themselves of learning about black history once February passes, because it is a history that very much implicates their own racial identities. Achieving social justice and racial progress is contingent upon learning and acknowledging the uncomfortable histories of marginalized peoples, particularly black people. If the U.S. is to truly try and solve its racial divide, it should begin by integrating black history into American history as the expectation, not the exception.