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Do we still need Black History Month?

by Tinu Abayomi-Paul on February 5, 2013

In which we discuss whether- and why- Women Grow Business is/is not celebrating Black History Month

Playing Dress Up | c. 1942-45The need for Black History Month may seem like an odd topic for Women Grow Business to be tackling. For those of you who aren’t aware, I’m a black woman. And I hear around half of African Americans are too. :)

This topic has been on my mind as I try and decide whether to celebrate it here.

There’s no mandate stating I must celebrate it, nor do I have to explain the choice I make to anyone, so it comes down to a  judgement call about what’s best for the publication. In either case, it made sense to me to make a statement on my position, so that there’s a place for dialogue.

Of course I want to acknowledge it somehow, as well as to take the opportunity to showcase resources for women of color in business here. However, it can be tricky to balance being more inclusive of one group, while not excluding another – that would affect readership, so it’s definitely a concern.

Then there’s the big question.

Do we still need Black History Month?

There’s a conception that there’s no need to recognize or acknowledge racial differences or race relations now that we have a half-African president, one akin to the idea that now that we have a black president, racism is dead. The idea has been debated for years, and not only have reported incidents of racism not gone down, some polls [pdf] and observers say it’s getting worse.

Saying having our first African American president eliminates the need for things like Black History month is like saying you don’t need to treat your broken leg because you bought a new car.

It’s a wonderful thing to have a black president.

It shows the progress we’ve made as a nation, and certainly helps a great deal to have a leadership example in the highest office.

But it doesn’t treat the problem.

Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom helped advance women’s equality tremendously. But the journey isn’t over. There is still gender inequality, and racism is alive and well.

And one of the ways to help change the latter is to correctly reflect the image of African Americans. The celebration of Black History Month does this in various ways.

For example, by highlighting many of the contributions black people have made to this country’s advancement, over time the average societal perception of the worth of black people have changed. Decades or centuries from now when we truly do conquer racism, knowing what role each culture has played in making this country great can help maintain future ideals of human equality.

Of course in the present incarnation, the celebration of Black History month often leads to the same handful of familiar people being celebrated over and again. The same movies are shown on cable television – some years it bends more toward entertainment than education.  So as far as what we need?

If we’re going to do the same song and dance each year and call that respecting a culture’s contributions? No, we probably don’t need that.

Need is a subjective word though – what’s essential for one may not be for another, so context is important.

Within the context of whether American culture still needs to correct and adjust the images it has of black people to be closer to reality of American society? Yes, in the melting pot sense of the idea, knowing the world grows figuratively smaller each day, we need that, as a society.

Perhaps what we really need is for Black History month to evolve.

In that spirit, we’ll be celebrating here by publishing articles throughout the month of various resources for women of color in business and a few profiles from community members and other women who are making history in the here and now. Please feel free to add the resources you know about in the comments – they aren’t moderated.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Black History Album

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