There is no white history month not because it’s not needed, but because it very much is.
It’s that time of year again, when people have been asking the dreaded question: Black History Month? Why is there no White History Month! And the more patient among us repeat the same glaring, obvious answers, year after year. Answers like, “what the other 11 months of the year”, “create one yourself if you’re so upset”,” why not join in with Black History Month, you might learn something”, and “shut up you big annoying racist child.”
But there’s another, more serious, answer itching away underneath all these. There is no White History Month not because it’s not needed, but because it very much is.
When we talk about Black History Month, I admit that the first things to spring to my mind, instinctively, are along the lines of slavery and civil rights; those sorts of subjects. But that’s ridiculous. That is me making Black History all about me, all about racism – all about white people. Black History is presumably everything from Aztec art to the ancient Egyptians, the Ottoman Empire to Moroccan architecture. Even the history of Jesus Christ is surely ‘Black History’ to come extent? Slavery, civil rights, and empire, they are actually the bits of ‘White History’ which we aren’t proud of, and so on which our collective education is woefully poor. The bits of ‘White History’ we shuffle into ‘Black History’ and expect black people to educate us about.
Slavery is obviously ‘Black History’ – but it’s also ‘White History’. If we were to have a White History Month, a month where we actually studied ‘whiteness’ as a construct – studied what it means to be white in a political, historical context – these things would be at the top of our subject list. Slavery, empire, racial oppression – these things should be our responsibility to learn about, to teach ourselves about. We would talk about them not just in the context of the people they happened to, but in the context of the people who did them.
For all the ranting about political correctness gone mad in the classroom, I think it’s quite possible to argue that most state schools do not teach nearly enough about the history of what we now call ‘multiculturalism,’ do not teach the connection between immigration and the British Empire and the Commonwealth, and do not trace back the family tree of empire, slavery, well-intentioned liberalism, and modern economics.
The question ‘Why is there no White History Month?’ is asked as a derail, as a trolling question, to imply a double standard. And there is a double standard, but it’s a different one than the questioner means. The question should really be: why do we only study ‘Whiteness’ as a political thing in the context of Black History Month? Why don’t we debate who profited and who lost out from the politics of race, why don’t we learn about the impact of racist myths on education, on women’s bodily autonomy, on property rights? Why don’t we debate the merits of slavery reparations?
Why don’t we have a White History Month? We don’t have a White History Month because we think we don’t need one, but we do. We don’t have a White History Month because we don’t think racism is our problem. We don’t have a White History Month not because we’re trying to erase ‘Black History,’ but because we are trying to erase and forget our part in it. We don’t have a White History Month because we expect black people educate us about our own damn history. So if you want a white history month, let’s have one. Let’s study the history of ‘whiteness’. How such a concept was constructed, by whom, and for whom. You want to study what it means to be white? Then let’s study ‘White History.’ All of it.