Black History Month doesn’t name white supremacy and unwittingly facilitates it

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tags: Black History Month, Black History



Steven W Thrasher is a weekly columnist for Guardian US. He was named Journalist of the Year 2012 by the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Village Voice, Rolling Stone, BuzzFeed, the Advocate and more. Follow him on Twitter at @thrasherxy or visit his website.

It’s been 50 years since Martin marched to Montgomery and Malcolm was massacred in Harlem: we don’t need another Black History Month. We need a Dismantling White Supremacy Month.

I love black history and culture, and kids do need to learn that the brothers are not just locked up in jail, but have always been up in the sciences – from Neil deGrasse Tyson to astronaut Ronald McNair all the way back to George Washington Carver. In the Reagan years of my childhood, it was always fun to learn about Shirley Chisholm being the first black woman elected to congress (and first woman ever to run for the Democratic nomination for President), to discover Cleopatra probably didn’t look much like Elizabeth Taylor, and to argue with my classmates that Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings most definitely had children together.

But there’s a real danger to Black History Month: it doesn’t name white supremacy, and it unwittingly facilitates it.

Each February in America (where we only get 28 days to remember that black Americans did more than pick cotton, while black Britons get a full 31 days each October!) , we simply get a big, heaping dose of black exceptionalism. And I cherish stories of Fannie Lou Hamer singing “This Little Light of Mine” just as much as I love tales of Harriet Tubman leading slaves home to the north – but tales of black exceptionalism are set in obvious contrast to the stereotypical and still resonant idea of lazy slaves and disenfranchised sharecroppers. The real exceptionalism, which goes unspoken, is that which showed any resistance to the bonds of white supremacy. The Hamers, Tubmans, Carvers, deGrasse Tysons, the “lazy” slaves whose resistance to the system in which they found themselves could have cost them their lives, and the black sharecroppers granted the “freedom” to “work on their former owner’s plantation at his terms,” usually in perpetual, unavoidable debt were all exceptional not for being better than their lazy brothers and sisters, but for being superior to structural racism.

The white supremacy that proscribed black lives in history still exists today as a (if not the) guiding force in modern American life – politicallysocially and economically – in ways structurally significant and mortally dangeroussubtle and rather overt. Black History Month simply ignores the ongoing existence of white supremacy and, paradoxically, acts as a pressure valve which allows it to continue....




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