Black Student Union Celebrates and Debates the Value of Black History Month
BY JIM MALVEN
For the past four decades, the United States government has officially recognized February, the birth month of abolitionist Frederick Douglass and emancipator Abraham Lincoln, as Black History Month. On Friday night, Westminster’s Black Student Union hosted a meeting for students of all races to discuss the meaning and relevance of it.
Over the course of two hours, students debated several issues: whether Black History month is a recognition of black accomplishments or an expression of white guilt, if there should be a Black History Month at all, and whether or not there should be a month recognized as “White History Month.”
To supplement these discussions, Black Student Union President Khaila Jones, ’19, showed two different videos related to the topics. The first gave reasoning for why there is no White History Month, and the second explained the rationale behind having Black History Month, while responding to Stacey Dash’s criticism of Jada Pinkett Smith’s decision to boycott the Oscars due to a lack of black nominees.
Although students voiced differing opinions on Friday, most of them ultimately agreed that Black History Month exists because it forces schools to emphasize the suppressed history of a distinct group of people. A White History Month, they concluded, is unnecessary because white history is currently dominant in American culture. While many students said they would like to see Black History Month dissolved into a year-long education on black history, they recognized that America’s education system is not yet ready to take that next step.
Black Student Union Vice President Celeste Cummings, ’19, said that she does not like the idea of having a Black History Month because she would like black history to be a part of year-round education instead.
“We should just learn about everything, but we’ve got to take baby steps,” she said.
Cummings added that hopefully more people will become interested in Black History Month, and then show interest in black history in general, at which point schools, organizations and the government can widen their scopes.
Both Cummings and Jones said that while they want black history education to become more integrated into American history education, they do enjoy and learn from Black History Month.
“One of my favorite quotes is, ‘You can’t be what you can’t see,’ and Black History Month is my time to see people who look like me and have been through the same things I have, accomplished things that I might want to, that I might not have ever seen myself doing had I not been introduced to these people,” Jones said.
“It’s just a positive time for me,” she added. “Even here at Westminster, and sometimes just in the world, being a woman of color, you don’t feel included, but there’s this month that’s made for me, and it’s a time that I’m included, and it’s about me … It sounds kind of selfish, but it just feels good to be included in something, and it’s guaranteed ever year.”
Cummings expressed a similar feeling: “I think the importance of Black History Month is that it’s a time where all this history and all this knowledge is kind of out in the open, and it’s just like, whoa! Black people invented that. Black people invented that,” she said. “Although I learn year-round about black history, it’s nice to have this designated month.”
To celebrate this month, Black Student Union has organized a series of events in the coming weeks. On Feb. 18, Jaylen Bledsoe, a 17-year-old entrepreneur, business consultant and motivational speaker will speak in Coulter Science Center Lecture Hall about overcoming adversity. On Feb. 24, Alexis Templeton, a leader of the civil rights group the Movement, will speak in the same location about fighting oppression. The following day, there will be a coffee house in JCI that will celebrate African-American literature, dance, song and other cultural practices.
Cummings says that the purpose of these events and the meetings is to get more people involved in discussion and to “spread the word” so that the organization can reach out to the entire Westminster community.