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Black History Month criticized for not naming white supremacy

Civil rights marchers holding signs demanding equal rights to work

Black History Month criticized for not naming white supremacy

February, the shortest month of the year, is celebrated as Black History Month in America.

Writing for the Guardian, columnist Steven Thrasher makes the case that Black History Month unwittingly facilitates white supremacy by not naming it or addressing it.

Thrasher asserts that the type of black exceptionalism celebrated this month reinforces negative stereotypes by contrasting “lazy” slaves and sharecroppers who went along with the system, while heroes like Harriet Tubman fought against slavery.

From the article:

Each February in America (where we only get 28 days to remember that black Americans did more than pick cotton, while black Britons get a full 31 days each October!) , we simply get a big, heaping dose of black exceptionalism. And I cherish stories of Fannie Lou Hamer singing “This Little Light of Mine” just as much as I love tales of Harriet Tubman leading slaves home to the north – but tales of black exceptionalism are set in obvious contrast to the stereotypical and still resonant idea of lazy slaves and disenfranchised sharecroppers. The real exceptionalism, which goes unspoken, is that which showed any resistance to the bonds of white supremacy. The Hamers, Tubmans, Carvers, deGrasse Tysons, the “lazy” slaves whose resistance to the system in which they found themselves could have cost them their lives, and the black sharecroppers granted the “freedom” to “work on their former owner’s plantation at his terms,” usually in perpetual, unavoidable debt were all exceptional not for being better than their lazy brothers and sisters, but for being superior to structural racism.

Thrasher later quotes Michelle Alexander, writer of “The New Jim Crow”, in noting that exceptional individuals are often used to defend the system against charges of systemic and structural inequality.

Black success stories lend credence to the notion that anyone, no matter how poor or how black you may be, can make it to the top, if only you try hard enough. These stories “prove” that race is no longer relevant. Whereas black success stories undermined the logic of Jim Crow, they actually reinforce the system of mass incarceration. Mass incarceration depends for its legitimacy on the widespread belief that all those who appear trapped at the bottom actually chose their fate.
-Michelle Alexander, “The New Jim Crow”

Does Thrasher’s column influence how you think about Black History Month? Are your churches observing the month? How?


Posted by David Streever


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Philip B. Spivey

I have a hard time getting my head around this argument: How does the celebration of Black History (on the shortest and coldest month of the year) feed white supremacy?

This argument is framed in tortured logic and seems, more than anything, to be an attempt to undermine the sacredness and joy of this celebration.

The final quote by Michelle Alexander has validity only if she is referring to an un-reconstructed white audience. Black folks have no illusions that our heroes are few and they achieved what they achieved in spite of white supremacy, not because they were co-opted by that system.

Yes, my parish will celebrate Black History month: We will celebrate our Black leaders and their followers, because we know that without good followers we cannot produce good leaders; we will celebrate the fact that we have endured as a race; and we will celebrate the fact that each of us is exceptional by virtue of being here.

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