28 Days: Why Black History Month Is An Insult

by Devin Papillion
Wiki Commons
You’re going to relegate my history to a month?

This was a quote from a short clip of an interview I came across between Morgan Freeman and Mike Wallace during a "60 Minutes" segment a few years ago. It’s only a minute long, but I must’ve watched it a thousand times.

In 60 seconds, Freeman figuratively manifests just about every issue wrong with race relations in America today.

Here’s the video clip for anyone who hasn’t seen it:

In the first few seconds, Freeman makes it substantially clear he finds Black History Month “ridiculous.” The camera flashes back to Wallace and the expression on his face is begging for an explanation.

“Black history is American history," says Freeman. Suddenly, I feel the tables turn as Freeman dominates the entire interview and starts asking rhetorical questions for which Wallace isn’t prepared: "Which month is White History Month? Do you want a White History Month?"

Wallace is oozing with discomfort, losing bits and chunks of his composure by the second.

The cherry on top, though, was definitely when Wallace asked Freeman, “How do we get rid of racism?” Freeman replied, “Stop talking about it.” It was the best case of reverse psychology I’ve ever seen. Wallace was absolutely baffled.

So, yes, Black History Month is here again. All my fellow black folk, get your megaphones and party favors ready; grab your confetti and your silly string, your picnic baskets and your checkered blankets, so we can throw a freaking party.

This is the one month out of 12 where everyone else gets to praise us. We have 28 days to show the world just how much we matter, so let’s act fast!

Isn’t it great?

We get a whole 28 days to remember George Washington Carver and his inventive contributions to the industrial revolution; 28 days to remember the 30 times Martin Luther King was arrested between 1955 and 1965; 28 days to remember and honor Malcolm X, Jesse Jackson and John Lewis.

We have 28 days to remember the year Muhammad Ali lost his championship title for simply standing up for something he believed in; 28 days to remember Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks and Sojourner Truth.

We have 28 days to remember Langston Hughes, Robert Hayden and Harriet Beecher Stowe and what they did for American literature; 28 days to remember W.E.B. Du Bois, Marcus Garvey and Daniel Hale Williams.

We are awarded just 28 days to remember countless people of color who fought and died in the Civil War, laying down their lives for a country who wouldn’t think twice about theirs.

We are limited to 28 days to remember Emmett Till, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Eric Garner.

Are we aware of the extent to which we honor our predecessors? Or, are we just celebrating what and when we’re told to celebrate?

Is it that plausible to fit the entire span of hundreds of years into 28 days? Like Morgan Freeman said in the video, “Black history is American history.” The relegating of our history into one single month does nothing less than undermine the great things black people have done for this country.

It’s almost like a subconscious insult to the entire black race, built on the premise of the "affirmative action" concept. It’s like someone is saying, “Give them their month so they can shut up already.”

We were inventors, doctors, activists, botanists, scientists, poets, authors, carpenters, dancers, actors, artists, dreamers and believers. We were all of the things for which white people were and are remembered.

Some of the most important milestones achieved in American history go without proper acclaim. Meritorious, hard-earned accolades were stripped clean from the black man’s hands before he could touch them because at one point, he was only considered three-fifths of a person.

In 1793, a slave named Sam introduced an idea to his master for removing the seeds from barrels of cotton in a faster, proficient way. It was a comb-like procedure that worked better than anything they had seen before.

In 1794, Sam’s master slapped a patent on the idea, and now, over 200 years later, Eli Whitney’s cotton gin is noted as one of the most revolutionary inventions of the industrial age.

You see how that works? In 1793, Sam was only considered three-fifths human, so how could three-fifths of a human being walk into a patent office and reap credit for one of the most important inventions in US history?

But, don’t worry folks, there’s still a little hope: We get a whole 28 days to celebrate Sam.

When I was a little girl in school, I remember getting excited when February arrived. The teachers would touch briefly on historical figures, like Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks. We would crack open our textbooks and our little pamphlets, lightly sprinkled with quotes and images of black Americans who have made their mark.

And on the 28th day, we'd close those chapters and I wouldn't see the images again until the following year. But, I never thought to think twice about how brief this period felt; I would wait and wait and wait for it to come.

I loved the music we learned and studying the people in the books who looked like me, but in retrospect, I know I was too young to draw the kinds of conclusions I'm making today. It took me nearly 15 years to realize just how short-changed we are.

I probably have one of my current idols to thank for the inspiration behind this piece.

Earlier in 2014, Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote a remarkably impressive article in The Atlantic entitled, "The Case for Reparations." In the article, he makes excellent points about stolen and undocumented land over centuries of unfair distribution.

He presents the argument that this generation of blacks deserves reparations for the land and belongings of our ancestors lost by way of past, unjust counts. Although I agree to some extent, it’s a beautifully written article, and if you haven’t already, check it out here.

I think I’ll spend this month celebrating things like my baby niece due at the end of the month, or my kid sister’s birthday -- she turned 18 yesterday.

I’ll continue to celebrate “black history” every time I take a sip of water from a public fountain without the fear of public scrutiny.

I’ll celebrate every time I take the train through downtown Dallas and I’m not asked to stand or sit in the back somewhere. I’ll celebrate every time I go sit down at a bar and a white bartender serves me with a smile.

I have so much hope in this generation, I don’t need a designated month to remember what my ancestors did for me. I’ll continue to serve them through the changes I make in this world for the generations that will come after me.

For every black folk walking around America right now, the “celebration of black history” is every waking moment of our lives. So, I’m sorry, America, but 28 days is just not enough for me.

You can have those 28 back; I’m more than certain I will still be black for another 337 days, at the very least.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of Elite Daily.