Black History Month (BHM) is an observance of the history of the African diaspora in a number of countries outside of Africa. Since 1976, it is observed annually in the United States and Canada and the Caribbean in February, while in the United Kingdom it is observed in October. In the U.S., Black History Month is also referred to as African-American History Month.
Black History Month was begun as Negro History Week by historian Carter G. Woodson in 1926. His goal was to educate the American people about African-American history,focusing on African Americans’ cultural backgrounds and reputable achievements.
When Carter G. Woodson started Negro History Week, his purpose was for the history of African Americans to be considered a more significant part of American history as a whole. According to historian John Hope Franklin, Woodson “continued to express hope that Negro History Week would outlive its usefulness.” The purpose of Black History Month is to promote awareness of African American history to the general public. It is argued, that despite the opinions of several critics, Black History Month has several advantages, and to this extent, Woodson’s hopes were realized. During Black History Month, African American history is taught to thousands of students at the elementary, high school and university levels respectively predominately in North America and Europe. African American history is an extremely important part of American history, and it is almost impossible to find an American History textbook that does not include passages about black history.
Black History Month sparks an annual debate about the continued usefulness of a month dedicated to the history of one race. Several journalists argue the advantages and disadvantages of emphasizing one month of the year to promote African American History.
It is seldom argued that America’s youth does not at least somewhat benefit from having an annual Black History month, however, several critics argue that the adult population now perceives the month of February from a different angle. One question that has been raised is in regard to why the month chosen to celebrate Black history is February, which is the shortest month of the year.
It is argued that Black History Month has become a “ready-made excuse to ignore African American history from the other 11 months of the year,” thus promoting racism. Journalists argue that by dedicating a single month of the year to black history, it provokes a tendency for people to assume that black history is separate from American history. Joseph Wayne states that “one month out of every year, Americans are given permission to commemorate the achievements of black people. This rather condescending view fails to acknowledge that a people and a country’s past should be nurtured and revered; instead, at this time, the past of black Americans is handled in an expedient and cavalier fashion denigrating the very people it seeks to honour.” Prominent African-American Morgan Freeman has publicly condemned BHM, asking "why would you relegate my history to a single month?"
Other critics claim that Black History Month has become a marketing or commercialization month, providing the opportunity to advertise and sell more goods. Owen Alik Shahadah states that "Black History Month without a memory of Africa is moot" in reference to the commercialization of the month which he claims focuses more on Black celebrities rather than ancient African history. Society is missing the “essence of Carter G. Woodson’s dream” and in many cases companies are using the commemoration month to their advantage. Black History Month has somewhat lost its significance among American society as the month of February is also American Heart Month, International Boost Self-Esteem Month, International Embroidery Month, Library Lovers Month, National Cherry Month, National Children’s Dental Health Month, National Snack Food Month, and Return Shopping Carts to the Supermarket Month.
It can also be argued that Black History Month has now been diversified into the idea of promoting multiculturalism within communities, rather than promoting awareness of the history of African Americans. Whether or not this statement is true, Carter G. Woodson believed that black history was a missing segment in the minds of most American Historians of his day.