The surprising case for making March the first ever White History Month

tags: White History Month

Elliot Ross is senior editor at Africa is a Country. He has contributed to The Guardian, BBC World Service, Al Jazeera America, Guernica and Foreign Policy, among others.

One year ago, my colleagues at current affairs and culture blog “Africa is a Country” and I decided the time was right for White History Month. In the US, February is recognized as Black History Month, an event which invariably attracts complaints from people who consider it witty to argue there should be a similar month for white people. Listening to these ridiculous debates play out—again—we thought, “Ok. Fine. You want White History Month? We’ll give you White History Month.”

For inspiration, we re-read the superb essay British journalist Gary Younge wrote for The Nation back in 2007. “So much of Black History Month takes place in the passive voice. Leaders ‘get assassinated,’ patrons ‘are refused’ service, women ‘are ejected’ from public transport. So the objects of racism are many but the subjects few,” Younge wrote. He continued:

In removing the instigators, the historians remove the agency and, in the final reckoning, the historical responsibility … There is no month when we get to talk about [James] Blake [the white busdriver challenged by Rosa Parks]; no opportunity to learn the fates of J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant, who murdered Emmett Till; no time set aside to keep track of Victoria Price and Ruby Bates, whose false accusations of rape against the Scottsboro Boys sent five innocent young black men to jail. Wouldn’t everyone–particularly white people–benefit from becoming better acquainted with these histories?

With these motivations in mind, we we kicked off the first White History Month with a fascinating post by Kathleen Bomani on leather from human skin allegedly turning up in 1880s Philadelphia, a piece on Britain’s mass torture regime in Kenya in the 1950s, and that time the South African government sent a delegation to the US to find out how Native American reservations worked.

This year is no different. In an effort to educate our loyal readers—and hopefully the broader Internet—about white history, we are blogging this month about important incidents like the acquittal of the G4S guards who killed Jimmy Mubenga aboard a British Airways plane in 2010—despite the many racist jokes found on the guards’ mobile phones. Our readers have already learned from rapper Wanlov the Kubolor exploring why white people are known as “obroni” in Ghana. ...

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