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Why there isn’t a White History Month

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When someone asks why there isn’t a White History Month it can be hard to unpack such a loaded question in one sitting.  The obvious and over-simplified answer to this is, of course, that every month is White History Month. However, this hardly seems like an adequate response to folks who are still genuinely looking for an answer rooted in what many take as a post-racist 2013 (especially after the election and re-election of our first black president.)

One particular group of geography scholars took President Obama’s re-election as an opportunity to run some numbers. Looking closely at some of the most racist and hateful tweets posted during the final week of the campaign season, they found that out of the ten “most racist states,” only one (Minnesota) voted for Obama. Although this in and of itself does not prove how widespread and damaging racist ideologies continue to be in the U.S., it does show a cluster of hateful and racist musings in states which not only favored Mitt Romney but also were quite vocal about their hate for the color of our President’s skin.

These geography scholars, who call themselves the Floating Sheep bloggers, go on to remind us that “lest anyone elsewhere become too complacent, the unfortunate fact is that most states are not immune from this kind of activity. Racist behavior, particularly directed at African Americans in the U.S., is all too easy to find both offline and in information space.”

A quick look at the onslaught of racist slurs that were tweeted and re-tweeted after Obama’s win provides a sobering view of a nation that is still unable to criticize candidates based solely on their political shortcomings and instead resorts to racist reasoning to tear a candidate down.

So the first course of action in why we don’t need a White History Month becomes establishing the prevalence of racism in the United States and acknowledging its presence as widespread, systematic, and damaging to all people as a whole. The next step is unpacking privilege what it is, who has it and what – to do with it.

John Scalzi’s article, “Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is,” garnered attention last May for its ability to break down the concept of privilege in everyday videogame terms. Despite Scalzi’s success with a younger audience, the concept of privilege continues to remain demonized as an elusive theory at best.

Privilege, or more specifically here, white privilege, is defined for us in Peggy McIntosh’s popular essay, White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. According to McIntosh, privilege is as an “invisible package of unearned assets” which can be cashed in daily, such as social class, economic class, sexuality, and race, which we are meant to remain ignorant of.

This means that we are often taught “to recognize racism only in individual acts of meanness” but “never in invisible systems conferring unsought racial dominance” from birth. This means that whites are not just empowered, they are often over-empowered.

This is how privilege works: it allows those who have it not to see it. The news, education, history and media entertainment all center on white people and their accomplishments. It’s time to give attention to other important experiences so that a more accurate, more diversified depiction of the world can be recognized.

Although we could never fully recognize and undo all the history that has been erased in only one month, Black History Month is the time where we are reminded that there is other literature and art, other stories and accomplishments, that matter outside of what gets published in our history books and European literature classes.

So where do we go from here, now that privilege has become a dirty word and many believe racism to be a problem of the past?

According to Bell Hooks, a feminist expert on the topic of race and privilege, privilege in and of itself is not a bad thing. What matters is how we choose to handle it. According to Hooks we need to,“share our resources and take direction about how to use our privilege in ways that empower those who lack it.”

So as hard as it is and as bad as it might make you feel, those with privilege need to recognize how we are advantaged- as straight, white, male, cis-gendered and able-bodied. We need to ask ourselves how we can combat a system which continues to keep others down at our benefit.

In the coming weeks there will hopefully be an influx of diversified news segments and articles that establish long-term discussion of the prevalence of racism in the United States. So remember, whether it is Black History Month or not, it’s not just about white people anymore, and we need to start being okay with that.

Lauren Vaughn is a Collegian columnist. She can be reached at lvaughn@student.umass.edu.

 

Comments
15 Responses to “Why there isn’t a White History Month”
  1. Eric Tori says:

    Dear Lauren Vaughn,

    Based on all your talk of “invisible systems” it is quite clear you are enjoying your sociology classes. Don’t worry, this too shall pass.

  2. Meridith says:

    What a lovely article! It’s a tough topic and you wrote about it so eloquently. Thanks for taking the time to write this. 😀

  3. Matt says:

    Totally agree with kris and Eric. We live in a utopia where there is no inequality or racism anywhere. Merica!

  4. Daniel says:

    I don’t believe that there is necessarily a direct correlation between racist tweets and not voting for Barack Obama. I imagine they came from traditionally Red states, and would have voted Republican regardless of the Democratic candidates race.

    That being said, I completely agree with the necessity of Black History month. As minorities in America, they are typically forgotten in the history books.

    A Black History month serves a similar purpose to the electoral college, which ensures that even small states will be important to an election. Just because America (and especially its leadership) is predominantly white, does not justify shoving other cultures and peoples history out of public concern.

  5. Dan Nott says:

    Great article, Lauren! You did a great job at bringing the topic full-circle, and it’s nice to read a piece that goes more in depth than just “every month is white history month”.

    @Kris, thank you for your thoughtful contribution to the topic. I’m glad you’re using this forum to its full conversational potential.

    @Eric Tori, congratulations, you’ve recognized that an article in the student newspaper you’re reading contains perspectives that may have been acquired in college. It’s quite clear that you’re pleased with yourself.

  6. Lauren Vaughn says:

    Thank you Dan! I certainly made a conscientious effort to (at least attempt) not to alienate anyone. I know its a controversial topic and I put a lot of thought into every word.

    Also @Daniel If you click the geography scholars link above you’ll see the correlation the bloggers made (mathematically) to racism and voting/political parties regardless of the “red” or “blue” state label. Either way, thank you for your comments! Your thoughtful reading of the piece is appreciated!

  7. Michaela says:

    What a well-written and thought-provoking article! Great job!

  8. Kris says:

    Dan, every time I try to critique one of your comics, I get denied. The are frequently misleading and always unfunny.

  9. Johnny says:

    We dont need a white history month because of the prevalence of racism in America? Are you invoking the typical left wing claim that all whites bear collective guilt because of the actions of a few? Having black history month celebrates the achievements of blacks throughout history, no strings attached. Do you hear people decrying black history month because of the high percentage of crimes commited by people of african american descent? No, because you sre not assigning corporate guilt to an entire race because of the actions of a few. Why is it that every time a person celebrates their heritage, and it happens to be caucasian, that it becomes racist in some way? Whats good for the goose is good for the gander, fair and equal treatment for all. If people of one race can celebrate thier identity, then people of any and all races can celebrate as well.

  10. Dr. Ed Cutting says:

    For every 10 slaves that were freed in the Civil War, one Northern White Male died in the Civil War. This, Lauren, is a fact.
    .
    And I’ll bet you consider Crispus Attics to have been a hero. The man swung at the head of a police officer with a four-foot long log — and the officer shot him. A UMPD officer would do the same thing today, it’s called “self defense.”
    .
    There is a reason why John Adams defended the British in the so-called “Boston Massacre.”

  11. Dr Watson says:

    Creating a black history month further cements the notion there is a difference between black and white in individual’s minds. If black people have their own history month, isn’t that segregation? As a white person would I not feel discriminated against? And I a told to deal with this. Reminds me of what ironically the African American movement was about, ending differences.

    This article supports the norm by strengthening this divide, by foolishly choosing to focus on the past instead of fixing the future to a point where we don’t ever need to worry about race.

  12. David Hunt, 1990 says:

    If you have always believed that everyone should play by the same rules and be judged by the same standards, that would have gotten you labeled a radical 60 years ago, a liberal 30 years ago and a racist today.

    Thomas Sowell

    Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/t/thomassowe371240.html#tgXFswy8Gd3QcWIa.99

    I guess, since he’s a black man wanting to be judged by the content of his character, he’s an “Uncle Tom”

  13. hm? says:

    There were racist tweets about Obama? Poor guy. Google Romney death threats. Click the first link. What Vaughn fails to realize is that ANY leader of 300 million people will ALWAYS, without fail, be subject to thousands of depraved, violent, reprehensible criticisms. And no, in no case do these criticisms indicate that a “nation” is racist, or communist, or fascist, or ______ (you can fill in the blank).
    .
    And while researchers try desperately to scrape together some correlation between racism and Obama detractors, here are a few facts that speak for themselves. Even as the unemployment gap between black and white people has widened under Obama, and even as unemployment among black women has increased while general unemployment went down during the recovery, black people still found reason to vote overwhelmingly for Obama: 93%.
    .
    I won’t take the time to dispute the findings Vaughn cited regarding racism and the vote, but merely leave you with this incontrovertible conclusion: There were many hundreds of thousands, indeed likely millions of American voters specifically picked Obama because he was black, and thereby deliberately did not pick Mitt Romney because he was white.

  14. Robbie says:

    Fascinating. Interesting article. It’s interesting to me that when reading an article like this I tend to feel a little defensive, as though I need to feel guilty because I am white. But all it took was reading the negative comments above to be reminded of how much we do need things like Black History Month.

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