The Other Columbus: Some free advice during Black History Month

To learn Black history is to better know American history

By Scott Woods
Black History Month

This will be one of those “conversations” some of you are always trying to have with Black people. The kind that leads to us getting aggravated and telling you to go Google something.

Some people always have something slick to say about Black History Month.

Either they don’t like it conceptually, or it’s too short, or it’s elementary, or it’s reverse racism and where is my White History Month? (It’s December.) As if Carter G. Woodson spent all that time getting Negro History Week to the table in 1926 only for his legacy to be people griping about 28 days of Black memes.

Black people don’t need Black History Month; everyone else does. Sure, you may get along just fine without random bits of trivia about who invented the traffic light, but Black History Month is the least you can do for the people who built your still-racist country. Now, that’s not why you should care about the observance. You should care about Black History Month because you need it.

Black people built this country. You don’t have an America great or otherwise without us, period, ever. If you’d stop complaining while not having to actually do anything during the largely optional Black History Month, you might come to appreciate what it has to teach you. Not about Black people but about America, which is funny because it’s a pretty easy argument to make that Black people appreciate America better than most “patriots,” if our spilled blood is any indication.

This is the kind of reflection that author Toni Morrison — whose writing many white people claim to adore — was getting at. She spent the bulk of her 11 novels and numerous essays, children’s books, speeches and interviews reveling in the wealth to be found in the Black interior, in our culture and self-awareness. She did so as-is. Not dressed up in respectability politics or concerned with white gaze. And because of that, her work has not only an educative property, but a healing one as well. She didn’t write history books; she wrote people books, and America is in a place where it needs to reckon with what kind of people of which it’s made. Black History Month is a chance for you to do that without looking weird to your white friends. 

Knowing Black history is knowing American history because it is American history, and knowing more about America is better for all parties involved. It at least means we don’t have to have this conversation over and over again, always starting from scratch because you refuse to do any of the homework. If nothing else, the least you could do is suffer in silence for a month while the 13 percent of the population that made your existence as an American possible get their flowers. 

Here is a bonus game for those of you who actually entertain the following kind of commentary: If you don’t like it here, you can leave. I include this commentary because one of you is predictably going to type this and post it in public space as a response and it’s an easy one to dissolve.

Listen, I’m not going anywhere. What part of “Black people built this” do you not understand? America may not be what it should be. Lord knows if Black people had been invited to participate in the planning of it we would have bought better drapes and skipped over that whole slavery thing. But you don’t get to just take 400 years of free labor and then kick me out the door. The funny thing is that the people who tell you to leave America never have the cash to move anybody anywhere. And the people who do have the cash aren’t telling me to leave. So basically, the Love It Or Leave It gang doesn’t have enough chips on the table to make me fold. 

If you want me to leave you need to pay what you owe. You can’t Trump your way out of this bill.