I am a white person. I’ve heard talk lately that it is a difficult spot to be in and that maybe it’s not okay to be white anymore. To those people I say: you are wrong. Being white is not difficult at all. In fact, being white is the easiest thing I’ve ever done.
Each year when February comes around, a lot of white people like to get up in arms. February is Black History Month, a time for reflection and remembrance, as well as a celebration of black culture and the things that have led to the current moment in black history. It’s been a thing since 1976. Before we took a month for the subject, there was a dedicated week that began in the 1920s. However, some think we should not celebrate it. The attacks on this particular occasion come from two angles. The first comes with the opening line “when is white history month?” and the second is “do we even need this anymore?” Both of these questions are wrong, but I will answer them anyway.
“When is white history month?”
Every month is white history month. If you think back to middle school history class you might remember that discussion of slavery was often saved specifically for Black History Month and the rest of the time was spent discussing the history of settlement in Canada (which itself is a misleading topic).
The problem with saying this is that you don’t really want a white history month at all, because you know that’s ridiculous. What you’re doing here is pretending that reverse racism is a thing, which it is not. The definition of a racist is that it is a person which believes the race that they belong to is superior, and discriminating against a race they believe are inferior. Part of the point of Black History Month is to point out all of the wrongs that white people have committed — and continue to commit — against black people. If we taught black history in schools all the time, maybe we wouldn’t need it. But black history is primarily not taught in schools and therefore Black History Month exists.
“Do we even need this anymore?
I can sort of see where this one is coming from. When people say this it is because they think that we fixed racism. We have not. When white people say this, it comes from a place of privilege. As white people, we don’t have to think about racism because it does not negatively affect us in any way. In fact, all white people inherently benefit from racism. Because of this, we might actually believe that racism doesn’t exist anymore. After all, there are laws against it, rules and regulations put in place by governments and corporations to make sure people are not discriminated against based on their skin.
But if you look around and really pay attention, you will see that racism still exists, often in more subtle ways that a white person might not see. As Elizabeth Martin pointed out last week in this very column, it exists even in things that some would say are as unimportant as makeup. If there is racism in something as ‘insignificant’ as cosmetic products, where else might it exist? I can’t tell you that. I’m white, and despite my attempts to see the world for what it really is, it’s hard for me, for any white person, to understand things that don’t affect us. There is truly no way for us to understand what a black person might experience because we cannot put ourselves in their shoes. Racism is alive and well, so yes, we do still need Black History Month.
Coming from the perspective of a white person, my arguments might not seem to carry that much weight. However, being an ally and a supporter is important. Why should you, a white person, care about black history month? Because Black history is as much a part of the history of our country as any other kind of history. Saying that we should not have it is incorrect. You would be better served by getting educated about what is going on, in listening when people tell you that something is offensive to them, and in trying as much as you can in your own life to shut racism down. White people may not be able to ‘fix’ racism but we can help and support people of colour. This February, and every day from here on out, try not to be the worst.
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