I’ve always had a certain affection for Black History Month. In school, we did projects. We had presentations and assemblies and speakers. There were contests and awards. In short: at Woodmore Elementary, Black History Month was a big deal.
It never struck me as unfair to have a month devoted to celebrating the contributions of black Americans. Moreover, I never felt excluded in those celebrations, even though the vast majority of my classmates were black and I’m white. After all, I still got to make my report on Flo Jo and create a near life-size replica of her in fifth grade. I still learned about the Negro Baseball Leagues and went on field trips with my friends. I still sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing” in my school choir.
Black History Month was fun. And I hope it still is for students across the country.
I worry it isn’t, though, because (white) people treat it as an imposition. “What about White History Month?” As if something has been taken away. As if it’s a chore to think about black people, particularly black heroes and black luminaries. About the Tuskegee Airmen or Mae Jemison or Sojourner Truth. But who, in the end, has made that division? Black History is American History. American exceptionalism is black exceptionalism.
Because we all benefit from having Toni Morrison and Octavia Butler and Rita Dove in the world. We all gain something from the work of George Washington Carver and Benjamin Banneker. We can all rock out to Louis Armstrong, Stevie Wonder, and Aretha Franklin.
And it’s not a static history. It’s a living one. Black people are making contributions to every facet of American life. It’s a fact to be celebrated. And if we have to make space to do it one month out of the year because we neglect it the other eleven…well, I’d say that’s the only sad part about Black History Month.
I don’t say any of this to suggest that I’m outside the system or that I don’t have things to work on as an ally and a white woman or even that my childhood gives me greater insight into the issues facing black Americans. None of that is true. But I recognize that I had an opportunity growing up to become acquainted with exceptional people who otherwise may have been omitted from my education. And I am more grateful than I can say for that opportunity. Because it would have been my loss.
And because it’s Black History Month, one of my favs:
Satchel Paige pitched in 2,500+ baseball games and played for at least thirteen baseball teams, including the Cleveland Indians, the St. Louis Browns, and the Kansas City Athletics after Major League Baseball desegregated. At the time, he was the oldest pro rookie at the age of 42 and he played well into his fifties. One of the most versatile pitchers of all time, Paige is perhaps best known for his “Hesitation Pitch,” which might be the ultimate psychological fake-out pitch. Both a World Series champion and a Negro League World Series champion, he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1971.