Monday, February 28, 2011

Black History Month

In the US, today marks the end of Black History Month, also known as 'February'.

Perhaps because I'm a foreigner (and hence have little personally invested in issues of race guilt in this country), this always struck me as a completely absurd tradition.

Just stop and think for a minute. It's not Black History Day (which would make total sense) or Black History Week (which seems a little excessive, but I could understand).

No, a full month of every year needs to be devoted to Black History. It's Just That Important.

According to the powers that be, I ought to spend roughly one day in 12 over the course of my entire life contemplating the role of black people in history. By contrast, I would be blown away if more than 50% of the adult population call their parents one day in 12.

On the other hand, one advantage of the current system is that it's so overblown that it seems to mostly turn into a joke anyway.

For instance, I noticed an ad on the way to work advertising the lap band which said 'Celebrate Black History Month' and then some tenuous connection I can't even remember, then 'Get a Lap Band'. This is exactly in line with the lap band people's estimate of the overall demographic they're targeting at - in other words, people too dim to realise that the lap band has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DO WITH BLACK HISTORY.

Another bizarre aspect is if you type in Black History Month into google images. A weird number of the hits show pictures of Nike Sneakers:

Below are the proportion of images on each page showing sneakers:

Page 1: 2/40
Page 2: 6/40
Page 3: 10/40 (!?!)
Page 4: 18/40  (?!?!?!?!?)

By contrast, here are the proportion of images featuring Louis Armstrong:
Page 1: 0/40
Page 2: 1/40
Page 3: 0/40
Page 4: 0/40

Apparently Nike Sneakers formed a very integral part of Black History. Who knew?


  1. Yeah, it is because you're a foreigner. The shadow of slavery is long and dark. It's also a month long for various practical reasons (school curricula, TV and radio programming, and various event creation scenarios). Though this may be post hoc ergo propter hoc. Anyway, where were you during Kwanzaa?

  2. "The shadow of slavery is long and dark."

    That definitely makes sense. On the other hand, the shadow of slavery in Saudi Arabia is short and dark, because it still existed in the 1950's!. This isn't to trivialize slavery, just that the US seems far more focused on it that countries with equally bad or worse traditions of slavery. Maybe that's a good thing.

    Still there's got to be a limit to how long you want to spend on it - otherwise, why not make it 'Black History Spring' or 'Black History First Half of the Year'? Maybe I should just be grateful they chose the shortest month. And then everyone wants their own month - Breast Cancer is trying to get in on the action too. There's only 12 months to go around, so claim your slot soon!