From the Editor’s Keyboard

Ninety Years of Black History Month: Dr. Woodson’s Story Must Inspire Us to Write Our Stories

17 February 2016 at 07:59 | 2029 views

By Charles Quist-Adade, PhD*

February 15 this year marked the 90th anniversary of Black History Month, which I prefer to call African Heritage Month. It was started in 1926 as Black History Week by Dr.Cater G. Woodson, a Harvard professor as a modest attempt to recapture and restore the stolen, distorted, and maligned history of people of African descent. In the 1960s the week was extended to a month

Twenty years ago in 1996, the Canadian government celebrated Black History Month in Canada a year after the Canadian National Assembly had unanimously adopted a motion by Honourable Jean Augustine, the first Black woman Member of Parliament. In the last two decades, several African countries followed Ghana’s lead to declare Black History Month a national event.

This piece is dedicated to the founder of the concept of Black History Month Dr. Carter G. Woodson Jr. Dr. Woodson’s name will live in the memories of people of African descent for centuries to come for his dedication to the cause of the African personality and identity.

His tireless efforts to restore the distorted history of people of African descent and to rehabilitate the deformed image of our people will never be forgotten. Against all odds, he researched, wrote, published, and lectured on a topic so dear to his heart: the contribution of Africa’s sons and daughters to the stock of world knowledge and civilization.

Dr. Woodson, through his writings, exposed the tissue of lies of European missionaries, explorers, colonialists, historians and scientists that Africans had contributed nothing to world civilization. His pioneering work inspired generations of scholars to shed further light on the enormous contributions of Africans in science, astrology, medicine, art, social sciences and the humanities. Hopefully, one day it will be possible to take stock of the inventions of the legions of Africa’s sons and daughters scattered over the face of the earth.

He insisted that the knowledge and dissemination of African history would, besides building self-esteem among blacks, help eliminate prejudice among whites. His cardinal aim was to inculcate in the mind of the youth of African blood an appreciation of what their race has thought and felt and done and to publicize the facts of Black history among Whites, so that the Negro may enjoy a larger share of the privileges of democracy as a result of the recognition of his worth.

In a 1921 speech, Dr. Woodson addressed the issue forthrightly:

"We have a wonderful history behind us. If you are unable to demonstrate to the world that you have this record, the world will say to you, You are not worthy to enjoy the blessings of democracy or anything else. They will say to you, Who are you, anyway? Your ancestors have never controlled empires or kingdoms and most of your race have contributed little or nothing to science and philosophy and mathematics."

In his 1933 classic work The Miseducation of the Negro, Dr. Woodson listed the fundamental problems concerning the education of the African person. He noted how we Blacks have been educated away from our own culture and traditions and how as African peoples we have attached ourselves to European culture, often to the detriment of our own heritage.

Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah wrote about both the need for efforts such as Dr. Woodson’s and the result as a re-awakening [of] consciousness among Africans and peoples of African descent of the bonds that unite us — our historical past, our culture, our common experience and our aspirations.

The late Afro-Guyanese historian Walter Rodney made the same point when he wrote:

"What we need is confidence in ourselves, so that as Africans we can be conscious, united, independent and creative. Knowledge of African achievements in art, education, religion, politics, agriculture, medicine, science and the mining of metals can help us gain the necessary confidence which has been removed by slavery and colonialism."

Thanks to the works of prominent historians, African as well as European and American, it is now known that Africans have contributed to the world’s stock of knowledge in various fields, including astronomy, mathematics, metallurgy, medicine, engineering and so on. What is more, it has been amply demonstrated that ancient Egyptian science and technology laid the very foundation for the development of Europe.

These scholars, both Africans and non-Africans, have exposed the open and hidden white supremacist agenda of the early missionaries, explorers, colonialists and pseudo-scientists. African history, for instance, was portrayed by the early European historians as an appendage to European history. In other words, Africa had no history, in fact, Africa existed in a kind of historical vacuum, a tabula rasa, until the arrival of Europeans.

Our despoilers’ aim was not only to deny our proper place in history, but sow in us a sense of inferiority. The descendants of our European despoilers made up of the motley white supremacist groups dotting the Euro-American landscape are straining every nerve to continue to affirm the arrant racism of their ancestors and to portray Blacks as biologically or genetically inferior and incapable of any human and intellectual achievements.

While the mainstream media, and indeed, the entire knowledge industry today have ceased to portray Blacks in grotesque terms as the white supremacist groups, they, through their selective and color-coded reporting end up furthering the same racist agenda of their forebears. It is no secret that the mainstream media continue to demonize young black men and criminalize our neighborhoods.

They continue to miscast us as drug-pushers, drug-addicts, muggers, murderers and villains. They over-represent us as athletes and entertainers, while our physicians, teachers, home-makers, mothers, and fathers are conveniently sanitized. The subliminal message they sell is:They are natural born athletes; their genes are not cut for other human and intellectual endeavors.

Yes, we do have drugs addicts, murderers, and muggers; our inner-city neighborhoods from Atlanta to Toronto have seen spates of violence and a rise in dysfunctional homes since the 1980s. However, it is totally wrong to make it look as though drug addiction, homicide, and broken families are solely Black problems.All ethnoracial groups have their fair share of these problems!

It is against the backdrop of past and continued efforts by white supremacists, and I am must add, white supremacist institutions to keep us down that we must stand up together as one people to fight back just as Dr. Woodson did in his time. We must continue to research and write our own history. Colonizers and enslavers have never been known to be altruistic even in the recording of history. We must chronicle our contemporary lives and events by pooling our resources to establish respectful, relevant and far-reaching pan-African media outlets to counter the continued mainstream media’s negative portrayal of us. It will be foolhardy to expect the mainstream media, owned predominantly by upper-middle class, white males operating in predominantly white communities to portray us in any better light than they are doing now. Far from the mainstream media’s pontification of objective, balanced and colorblind reporting, they are subjective, skewed, and color-sensitive. Ideological orientation, economic calculation, and political pragmatism dictate that they serve their constituencies first and foremost.

The best tribute we can pay to Dr. Woodson therefore is to let his story inspire us to write our own stories and never let our detractors to continue to symbolically annihilate us through misrepresentation, under-representation and marginalization in the media, popular culture and scholarship.

About the Author:
Dr. Charles Quist-Adade is a faculty member and past immediate chair of the Sociology Department at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. He is the author and co-author of several books:In the Shadows of the Kremlin and the White House: Africa’s Media Image from Communism to Post-Communism, and Social Justice in Local and Global Contexts, From Colonization to Globalization: The Intellectual and Political Legacies of Kwame Nkrumah (with Vincent Dodoo), Introduction to Critical Sociology: From Modernity to Postmodernity (with Amir Mirfakhraie), Africa’s Many Divides and Africa’s Future Pursuing Nkrumah`s Vision of Pan-Africanism in an Era of Globalization, several chapters in books, and scores of scholarly and popular press articles and blog posts.

He can be reached at cquistadade@gmail.com

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