Today is the last Monday of February — you know, also known as Black History Month?
All in all, it hasn’t been a particularly good month for black people: There’s been another Trayvon Martin-esque murder trial that went wrong, Georgia approved a Confederate-flag themed license plate and there was another “noose incident” on a college campus.
Then again, all of these occurrences are, unfortunately, rather run-of-the-mill. Yet, people wonder why there’s a need for a Black History Month. Or, worse yet, people have the nerve to be outraged about it and demand a “White History Month.”
To me, that’s funny, because children in the United States are spoon-fed white history — called American history — for most of their educated lives.
The only time a true emphasis is placed on the achievements and experiences of minorities in this country is during a designated “heritage month.” The notion that there needs to be a spotlight on white history because it has been somehow ignored or underrepresented is ridiculous. But I digress.
Personally, knowing about black history has proven to be paramount in the development of my self-perception.
It’s important to know that your people have done great things when most times all they get in a history textbook is two pages — one for slavery and one for the Civil Rights Movement.
When I was in grade school, learning about women like Phillis Wheatley, Bessie Coleman and Zora Neale Hurston, I found that my dreams could be attainable aspirations, even when most of the successful people out there seemed to always be white and very much unlike me.
Flipping through my dad’s books on black history, I saw there were great, famous people out there who looked just like me. There’s nothing so encouraging as when you see someone of your ethnic group called “a great” of American history when you’d never seen it before.
The media tells me my culture is dysfunctional and uncreative. However, because I have knowledge of my culture’s history, I know that my people possess infinite durability and ingenuity.
Since coming to this university, where in fall 2013 the undergraduate student body was 80 percent white, this has only become more personally relevant for me.
I often feel alienated and isolated because there are few people here with the same types of experiences as me. When I try to speak about my experiences to my white peers, my thoughts are disparaged or disqualified and my opinions ignored.
That’s why I need black history and Black History Month. My experiences here at UT are a reflection of our country’s view of history itself.
There are the ones who matter, who get to participate the most in the conversation, whose opinions are most pertinent, who are read about the most in books — and I’m not one of them. People like me get the message that we are irrelevant, so we have to make our own thing. Thus, Afro-centrism is born. Womanism is born. Black History Month is born.
Black History Month is about collective empowerment. It’s about celebrating the experience of a people who, despite being enslaved and oppressed, have made monumental strides in history.
We’re relevant. We’re important.
Andrea Richardson is a sophomore in anthropology. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.