Now that we are celebrating Black History Month, someone is bound to ask the question: Why is there no White History Month?
The short answer is, “Because every month is White History Month.” Reflecting the ignorance and racial tone deafness of the day, it has become acceptable to speak of “reverse racism” in some white circles, and the notion that anything that is named specifically of, for and by Black people is somehow racist — as if Black people have the power and ability to become racist in a white-dominated, white skin-privileged society. The fact is that in a country where white privilege is the norm, any attempt to overcome this, any modest effort to level the playing field by validating the achievements and legacy of Black people — and others whose history has been left out — is branded as unfair and exclusionary to whites.
Perhaps anti-racism activist, writer and educator Tim Wise says it best. He spoke some truths about the notion of White History Month within the broader context of whites never believing that racial inequality today — or slavery and segregation back in the day — is a problem. And of course, white people were and have been wrong. Yet, Black folks, for successive generations, have correctly identified the problem of racism. Wise says, “It’s not because white folks are insensitive, or hard-hearted, let alone stupid, but it is that those of us who are white have the luxury of not knowing black and brown truth.”
We don’t know because we don’t have to know. We are not tested on it. If I don’t know what people of color experience, what happens to me in this country? Virtually nothing. But if people of color don’t know my reality, if people of color don’t know white reality better than white folks have to know it, if they cannot regurgitate it to us better than we would ever be able to regurgitate it to ourselves, all hell breaks loose. So people of color are going to have to know white history, white literature, white art, white theatre, white poetry, white drama. I know we don’t call it that. That’s sort of the point.
But he makes a greater point debunking the concept of so-called White History Month:
When your stuff is the stuff against which everybody else’s stuff is compared and found lacking, you don’t have to name it. It’s just the norm. That’s why, for those still confused, we don’t have white history month because we have several. They go by the names of May, June, July, August, September, pretty much any month that we have not designated as someone else’s month, that’s white history month. But we take it for granted, because we don’t have to know other folks’ reality. That’s a privilege. That’s an advantage. That’s a head start, and it’s one we must think about.
While there may be no need for White History Month, some people think there should be a Whiteness History Month. Portland Community College has designated April for this purpose. According to the school’s website, there is a difference between “whiteness” as opposed to “white.”
“It refers to the construction of the white race, white culture, and the system of privileges and advantages afforded to white people in the U.S. (and across the globe) through government policies, media portrayal, decision-making power within our corporations, schools, judicial systems, etc,” the website says concerning whiteness. In other words, the idea is to look at whiteness as a social construct and address racism, exactly the opposite of the cause promoted by a White History Month.
At a time when many whites feel aggrieved and discriminated against — and place their faith and hopes in white supremacists such as Donald Trump — they hope to restore America to its original, white greatness, presumably when Black people were invisible and unheard. As Black people demand to have their humanity reflected and their history told, these are the conversations that we must have. Society must own up to the racism and find ways to address and eradicate it.