Note: This has been updated as things haven’t changed.
It’s almost February 2016 and I didn’t have to wait long. Every year inevitably there is a post or a tweet or blog asking the question, “So when is White History Month?” Grant me the leeway to be naive and receive this inquiry at face value. I will even go as far as to set aside the response that Every month is White History Month for the sake of argument. I strongly believe that each and every one of us have the inalienable right to have our interests, culture, and perspectives heard and recognized. That is what makes this country, the United States of America, great. In addition, to Black History Month there are Women’s History Month, Hispanic-Latino Awareness Month, Asian-Pacific Month, and other cultural recognitions. We also have Irish-American Heritage Month, Jewish American Heritage Month, Gay and Lesbian Pride Month, and Italian-American Heritage and Cultural Month. To add more dates to recognize on the calendar there is a veritable cornucopia of days highlighting everything from popcorn to dentists to grandparents to encouraging smoking cessation. If we have room on the calendar to celebrate all of these, why not a White History Month?
A White History Month could be a wonderful compliment to the diverse ingredients that make up the Great American Melting Pot. Of course, it goes without saying, White History Month has to be more than a collection of trivial facts and happenings but a comprehensive look at the history and the impact on history through the Caucasian/white lens. The time should be set aside to recognize trailblazers, those who sacrificed in the face of adversity as they worked to move the culture forward, as well as events serving as milestones of pride and motivation.
My recommendation for the formulation of a White History Month is to draw from the Black History Month blueprint. In 1926, Dr. Carter G. Woodson established Negro History Week as a reaction to the lack of recognition of Negro history and accomplishments in most of the textbooks at that time. Dr. Woodson promoted the idea of Negro History Week which quickly caught on and was soon celebrated around the United States. Fast forward, the year 1976 was central to the advancement of this body of cultural knowledge. The country was celebrating its bicentennial and it was the 50th anniversary of Negro History Week. It was decided that Negro History Week was to be expanded to Black History Month. I don’t propose to begin with a White History Week although it might be a good place to start–as a way for it to catch on. A new cultural recognition often takes time to gain popularity–consider Kwanzaa as an example. It’s still a hard sell for some African Americans.
The month of February was selected by Dr. Woodson because two important men in Negro history were born during that month: Frederick Douglas (Feb. 14) and President Abraham Lincoln (Feb. 12). It would be important to identify the month with individuals who best represent the lives, culture, and philosophies of White Americans. My recommendation would be the month of October. October is the birth month of President John Adams (Oct. 3) and Bill Gates (Oct. 28). President Adams was a statesman, diplomat, and a leading advocate advancing independence from Great Britain. Adams was also opposed to slavery and never owned any (he gets a vote from me). Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft, not only changed the world technologically, he also represents the philosophy of Corporate Social Responsibility with his Millennial Scholarship (another vote from me) and his world-wide philanthropies. These two individual could serve as the anchors for this period of recognition.
One of the most challenging but equally important aspects of White History Month will be the programs and activities highlighting the month. These programs should be designed to uncover and highlight the trials, the accomplishments, the trailblazers, and unsung heroes and heroines of the struggle. This is an opportune time to bolster pride in children who feel they have not been recognized, negatively portrayed, or simply absent in history, literature, the sciences, the arts, politics, or merely as citizens. It is a time to invite dynamic speakers to articulate the connection between the hardships of the past with contemporary issues and the hope for the future. Moreover, while there may not be a White National Anthem it would be appropriate to conclude your activities with a song while crossing arms (right over left) and holding hands with your neighbor to visually exemplify the struggle, perseverance, and the cultural connection. As you select the song please remember that the National Anthem belongs to everyone and (for the few who might suggest) Dixie was written by black men from Ohio. One additional programming note: dismiss the feeling that your programs are not successful if people from outside your culture do not attend or it feels like you’re preaching to the choir. Remember, others may feel uncomfortable, may not have a white friend to go with, or may not feel the program has anything to do with them. It’s okay. Have the program and know there’s more food on the reception table to go around. You can even wrap some up and take it home (just an insider’s tip).
Need more of a reason for an attempt at a legitimate White History Month? A recent tweet gave President George Washington credit for significant work with peanuts, not George Washington Carver. This is such a slight for all that George Washington has done for the United States. A White History Month would serve well to provide opportunities to learn so that historical faux pas such as this can be avoided.
I look forward to participating in White History Month activities with my friends who get it and learn an interesting thing or two by the month’s end.
Guy A. Sims is the author of the romantically romance novel, Living Just A Little, and the crime novellas, The Cold Hard Cases of Duke Denim. He is also the head writer of the Brotherman: Dictator of Discipline comic book series and the Brotherman graphic novel, Revelation. BCEPressworks.com