Does Black History Month serve its original purpose? Reflections on last month’s celebration

KNOXVILLE — Black History Month, the annual observance marking the importance of African Americans to history, began February first, and Johnson students, among others, have differing views on what the observation means today.

Peniel Joseph, the Barbara Jordan Chair in Political Values and Ethics and the founding director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, recently wrote a piece for CNN entitled  “We need Black History Month now more than ever.”

In his article, Joseph argued that Black History Month is important for three reasons: It provides a lens to contemplate current social issues, it provides perspective into “how civil rights struggles can fundamentally change democratic institutions,” and black history is alive.

“From Barack Obama’s historic election to the galvanizing presence of Black Lives Matter demonstrations, the events, social movements, political breakthroughs, and human drama that make up Black History Month continue,” Joseph wrote.

Joseph’s article reflects the historical perspective on Black History Month. However, the historical perspective is not the prevailing perspective from students at JU.

Shae Pierre-Jean, a Johnson Counseling major from Georgia, who has a rich family history from Haiti, is against the continued observation of Black History Month. The way she sees it, the observation of Black History Month is inadequate.

“I don’t like Black History Month,” Pierre-Jean said. “It doesn’t do justice for black people.”

She said the major contributions of black people to history cannot receive proper acknowledgment in a sole month’s time. She believes that historical African American contributions deserve year-round remembrance.

“I believe that black people should be celebrated every day,” Pierre-Jean said. “I don’t believe that a month does it justice.”

Noah Kropp, a Johnson sophomore, is in favor of Black History Month’s continued observation. From his perspective, the month-long observance is a time for people to unify against racism. As he sees it, until racism is no longer an issue, Black History Month is an excellent time to bring people together.

“I think Black History Month should continue to be observed because racism still isn’t entirely in the past,” Kropp said.

The United States has observed Black History Month since 1970.

The United Kingdom and Canada adopted the observation in 1987 and 1995 respectively.

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