The erasure of Black History Month by America


Black History Month is set aside to annually honor the contributions of African Americans to the U.S. History. It was launched by Carter G. Woodson. Woodson lobbied schools and organizations to participate in a special program to encourage the study of African American history, which began in February 1926 with Negro History Week. The program was later expanded and renamed Black History Month. (Woodson had chosen February for the initial weeklong celebration to honor the birth months of abolitionist Frederick Dougass and President Abraham Lincoln (who, in this writer’s opinion, should never be acknowledged, but…)

Since then, there has been more evolution, development… and resistance. To share every year about Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Madame Walker, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Marcus Garvey (and so many others!) is commendable, and all are worthy to be mentioned. But it’s also just as necessary to mention the harm, violence, cruelty, rape, and extermination of African Americans at the hands of white supremacists in America.

Black History Month Under Siege?

So, with the recent overreach of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, people of color can’t help but wonder if this is why he banned the teaching and books of African American contributors. Why should a white male conservative and his cronies get to tell what is or isn’t “correct” Black history? Or what should or shouldn’t be included in Black historical archives? What is his reasoning?

 DeSantis said that the state is blocking a new Advanced Placement course on African American Studies because it includes the study of “queer theory” and political movements that advocated for “abolishing prisons.”

“That’s a political agenda,” DeSantis said at a press conference. “That’s the wrong side of the line for Florida standards. We believe in teaching kids facts and how to think, but we don’t believe they should have an agenda imposed on them. When you try to use Black history to shoehorn in queer theory, you are clearly trying to use that for political purposes.”

The ignorance from this statement is unbelievable and clearly reveals his political agenda concerning BIPOC and LGBTQIA communities: erasure and silence.

Nothing New

However, DeSantis’ recent assault on Black history is not anything new! Burnings and bombings such as Rosewood, Ocoee, Tulsa and so many other atrocities to Black and Indigenous communities have all been attempts to erase and silence Black voices and telling accounts. It’s also an attempt to make conservatives and liberals comfortable with historic oppression and colonial takeovers by hiding and not acknowledging the truth.

Black History is not just a month, it’s a lifetime narrative that African Americans live daily! The good, the bad and the ugly!

ACLU’s Liberty Podcast writes:

“Sadly, more and more, this history is being challenged and even erased in our culture and, right now, in our schools, through tactics like curriculum restrictions and book bans. Truths we once considered hard but self-evident are now being erased before our eyes.

Over 30 state legislatures across the country have introduced bills to limit the discussion of racial history in a wave prompted by the emergence of critical race theory as a subject of political fear-mongering. But that’s just the beginning: over 300 books by predominantly Black authors discussing race, gender, and sexuality, were also banned in the last year alone. Yes, you heard me right. We’re banning books again.”

How can we push back?

Of course, the fight to overturn DeSantis’ decision to ban Black history is being legislatively discussed for whatever that may be worth. But communities and serious allies/accomplices must create spaces that uplift the voices of those being impacted. Opportunities to support BIPOC movements, individuals, artists, etc., must be taken. New litigation and fierce advocacy must be the answer to this attack.

Creative campaigns and gatherings could be an effective path to allow voices to be heard. Reclaiming media circles via underground sources. For example, zine productions, underground schools, teach-ins… anything that pushes back against this horrific law.

Again, the announcement of this ban came right before the celebration of Black History Month. DeSantis sent a message. The opportunity to respond will happen in places other than Tallahassee.

Amiri Baraka’s poem Why’s/Wise warns about not letting white supremacists take our magic.

The silencing of African American communities will NOT happen as long as we have a VOICE to sing, hands to play our instruments, and legs to dance to the rhythm of our souls.

Robin Harris is an activist for Black, LGBTQIA, low-income, and other marginalized people. She is an organizer for Central Florida Mutual Aid and collaborates with GO Humanity service team Orlando Oasis on disaster recovery.

GO Humanity organizes poverty alleviation efforts around the globe with an emphasis on empowering vulnerable communities.