Why We Need Black History Month: My People in Context

Photographs by Aida-Christina (AcyS), a black fashion student based in London.

“Why do you need a Black History Month?” We hear the question often. It rolls easily off the tongues of the unconcerned, those not necessarily prejudiced. I’ll add that such voices are valid; contrary to popular belief I, an African female, am able to clearly and rationally accept others’ opinions on my existence without flaring my nose, billowing steam from my ears, or jumping up and down so powerfully my wig flies from my head.

I’m thankful that the lenses through which people regard race are becoming increasingly fog-free, and though some headlines on the yellow pages may disagree, I don’t believe that decades of activism have been undone by a single presidency. But there’s still work to be done. In 1976, when he expanded Negro History Week into Black History Month, President Gerald R. Ford said it was important to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout [their] history.” I agree.

In the media we are largely presented as caricatures of black people. These depictions portray aggression, laziness, violence, hypermasculinity, drug addiction, wild hilarity, descriptions incongruent and illogical, but pointedly negative. We—protestors, slaves, rioters, shackled and chained, prisoners thrown from ships—are trapped within this wild dichotomy. Where is our refuge from the oppression we did not choose? Nevermind overcoming it, must we be correlated with it wherever we go?

African emperors existed before slavery. They wielded scepters and ordered armies. Black civilization did not begin with a wave of a white hand. We do not need connection to another group to be branded as contributors to the world, so I don’t care if “all people are African, if you really think about it”—you do not hail from my motherland. And on a side note, I hope you like the coffee you’re drinking; my Kenyan brothers farmed it for you. But if you disagree, you don’t have to listen. Drive  away in your car composed of platinum parts and running on diesel from my home.

Historically speaking, we aren’t sufficiently taught about black Americans existing sans oppression. I find it laughable and a shame that my middle school history lessons required us to memorize the preamble to the Declaration of Independence and each significant battle of the Revolutionary War, yet the Civil Rights era was barely brushed over. What are people afraid of? We don’t learn that Madam C.J. Walker, an entrepreneurial millionaire, was the wealthiest self-made American woman in her time. I’d love to point out that Chuck Berry was the father of rock and roll, and that DJ Kool Herc was a pioneer of hip-hop; Buddy Bolden gave you jazz music, and black churches brought you soul and gospel. Music is only a star in the universe of influence black Americans have had on American culture. How, stripped of their languages, familiarity, dignity, these masterminds became some of the greatest contributors to society, I can’t really comprehend. It blows me away. We use this month to raise these pioneers to the sky and thank them for what they’ve done for us all.

This beautiful month is drawing to a close, and in agreement with certain protestors to this month, I’ll add that we should never stop celebrating our black forefathers. Their celebration does not commence and end according to days drawn on the calendar (after all, Black History Month is the smallest month of the year, to quote Oscar Proud). Rather, we use this month to highlight black Americans both past and present, and their contributions to society. Their ascension to mountaintops, though brought to America to dig below the soil. We celebrate not only their accomplishments, but their nature, their humanity. We acknowledge the nerdy black kids, the black kids that love anime, the religious ones, the straight-A black students, the black gamers, the shy black kids, the ones that can look to these figures, rather than any problematic representations dominating the media, on what blackness looks like: complexity. There is no universal black experience. As the month draws to a close, I hope genuine fascination with this incredible community persists.

By Simisola Fagbemi


  1. The biggest achievement is that people become more tolerant and the race will no longer be an obstacle to building a successful life and career.

  2. African emperors existed before slavery. They wielded scepters and ordered armies. Black civilization did not begin with a wave of a white hand. These people are also people. We are all human beings.