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Do we need a Black History Month? Here’s your answer

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Nayaba Arinde: It would be absurd for black people to seek validation for the month from white people, but whites should pay attention

How ironic that Africans, the Earth's first people, get ignored by revisionist Eurocentric history, says Arinde

Editor’s Note: Nayaba Arinde is the editor of Amsterdam News, one of the oldest black-owned publications in the United States, and is an activist and radio commentator in England and in the U.S. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

CNN —  

The racial issues that simmer unceasingly beneath the surface of America have rushed to the surface again and again over the past year, boiling up as recently as the Grammy Awards last week.

Attired in a blue prison uniform and shackles, rapper Kendrick Lamar shuffled out on a stage flanked by prison cells, then challenged viewers with a fiery performance of “The Blacker the Berry” and his hit, “Alright” as the stage behind him erupted in a bonfire. The performance ended with Lamar standing silhouetted before a map of Africa with the word “Compton” splashed across it. “Black Twitter” rose up in recognition and solidarity.

Nayaba Arinde
Nayaba Arinde

This hot on the heels of Beyonce’s Super Bowl halftime performance, in which she and a cadre of black female backup dancers invoked the Black Panthers for Self-Defense, Malcolm X and other imagery resonant of the racial struggle in this country and of black empowerment, as she performed “Formation.” Opting to ignore, or deny, Beyonce’s legitimate political critique, some people – mostly white people, such as former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani – denounced it.

We are in the midst of Black History Month, and with these two high-profile events alone, the need for it could not be more self-evident.

But every year, someone questions the legitimacy of this month.

Late last month, Fox News contributor Stacey Dash, who is black, dismissed the debate over the lack of black nominees for the Oscars, adding – ridiculously – that “if we don’t want segregation, then we have to get rid of channels like BET and the BET Awards and the Image Awards.” She said: “There shouldn’t be a Black History Month. We’re Americans, period. That’s it.”

What the heck are Dash and people who think like her talking about?

Black History Month has roots that go back 90 years. One cannot celebrate it without honoring its founder, historian Carter Godwin Woodson. In 1926, Woodson, the founder of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, launched Negro History Week in recognition of black achievement and contribution.

This, of course, evolved into the monthlong celebration.

Today, a variety of books and calendars that feature the likes of Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, Madam C.J. Walker, Dr. Betty Shabazz, Denmark Vesey, Rosa Parks, J.A. Rogers, Sojourner Truth and Marcus Mosiah Garvey, for example.

Most broadly, the month is a time to celebrate the contributions and achievements of black people. But its meaning goes deeper and wider than that for many. To make sense of our ongoing conflicts in America, it’s crucial to understand this.

For example, Black History Month is also the acknowledgment of the (relative) collective triumph of black people surviving the African Holocaust – the Maafa, a term coined by anthropologist Marimba Ani in her 1994 book “Yurugu: An African-Ce