UMass Boston's independent, student-run newspaper

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

11/27/23 pdf
November 27, 2023

Another Look at Black History

Who is black? The ambiguity remains despite decades of celebrating Black History Month. Are we learning enough about the black experience?

In 1926, Carter Woodson launched “Negro History Week” to promote the black experience. At the time, Woodson was pursuing his PhD in history from Harvard University, only to realize that the contributions of black people were entirely overlooked. What began as a week grew into a month and since then, February has become the time of the year when the national consciousness explores the broad significance of black history. Not everyone is born with the awareness of the Civil Rights movement, or even Jim Crow segregation laws. Not everyone understands that sitting on a bus next to someone of a different color is a “freedom ride.” Not everyone knows Rosa Parks. So what does Black History Month mean?

When I broached the topic with a friend who is perceived as black, I realized that there was a more important question that I had overlooked. Who is black, and what does that mean? For someone else, the question might become, “What makes someone black, and what do these labels – Black, African-American, African – even mean?”

My immigrant friend identifies herself as African-American, but not black. Since her family did not share the struggle in the same way many black people did, she didn’t identify with them. Another friend considers herself African-American and black. Her parents saw the Civil Rights movement at work, and she grew up with great awareness of Jim Crow and segregation.

As I listened to their stories, I realized that there is much more I needed to know and understand. There is still so little circulation of knowledge and understanding about black people and their experience in the 83 years since the inception of Black History Month.

When he was asked if African-American history is taught enough in schools, the historian Henry Louis Gates, Jr. responded, “No, African-American history is generally only taught during Black History Month.” To this day, the black identity remains a puzzle. Black History Month, then, becomes not only a celebration, but a way to bring awareness.

Dr. Woodson didn’t work on putting black people in history books so they become quaint facts. His goal was to educate and enlighten.