Erin Texeira: Is Black History Month Getting Diluted?





[Texiera is a national writer for the AP.]

Black History Month: Come February, the now-familiar observance seems to inspire ever more -- and ever more random -- celebrations.

The players are both big and small. Multinational corporations mount billboard campaigns, while community centers hold fashion shows and tourist spots highlight their connection to black history.

But does saturation equal success?

While the concept of Black History Month has been widely embraced in pop culture, it means some of the nation's most bitter history also is getting watered down into cliches or irrelevance. Some events have no historical tie-in at all -- they're merely topics of interest to African-Americans. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, black history is used as a kind of commercial brand, which can feel off-key.

"It has become very mainstream," said Sheri Parks, a professor of American Studies at the University of Maryland. "I do think it's been diluted. Some of this seems like an excuse to put things on sale."

At Drexel University in Philadelphia, February events range from panel discussions about affirmative action and self-segregation on campus to a black art sale and an African American Down-Home Soul Food Dinner.

In Maryland's Prince George's County, there's Black History Magic, African Jewelry Making and a Black History Cheerleading Show.

A new-age center in Oakland, Calif., offered Mindful Drumming for Opening Minds and Healing Hearts and the University of Cincinnati's United Black Student Association has planned an event about online privacy titled "Has Facebook gone too far?"

Is this black history?

Though well-intentioned, the events are probably not what historian Carter G. Woodson had in mind when he created Negro History Week in 1926. He taught for decades that blacks must know their past before they could envision a brighter future.

By 1976, his organization, now called the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, had turned the week into Black History Month.

"The resistance was tremendous all over the country," said Maurice Thornton, a historian at the State University of New York at Albany. "There was a countervailing group who were doing their best to erase black history from the general public."

They lost the battle.

This month, Thornton said he gave a black history speech at the local office of the Federal Bureau of Investigations. "They're reaching out and want to let the world know that they're not just the old folks who tap your phones like they did during the civil rights era," he said. ...


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