SIx Reasons to Get Rid of Black History Month

As we gather on Monday evening to review the concept of African American Heritage Month, here are some reasons to end the decades-old practice of celebrating black people’s achievements during the shortest month of the year.

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I’ve been tapped to moderate a panel discussion at the University of Alabama this Monday, February 24  on the whole concept of African American History or African American Heritage Month.   And, I m just wondering what compelling arguments people still make in 2014 for continuing this annual observance.

Carter G. Woodson
Carter G. Woodson

As Wikipedia reminds us,  this whole thing started 88 YEARS AGO– with the celebration of Negro History Week, which was the second week of February designed to coincide with Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass’ birthdays.   We have Historian Carter G. Woodson to thank for that.     As a nation’s we’ve been celebrating the entire month of February as Black History month for 38 years since our nation’s bicentennial in 1976.

But, most people have come around to the understanding that the history of African Americans shouldn’t be relegated to the shortage month of the year– 28 days.

Here are my SIX REASONS to do away with Black History Month:

  1.  We can’t decide on whether it’s heritage or history that we’re celebrating.  (Some years we call African American Heritage Month)
  2. Having just a one-month observance de-emphasizes the history of black folks the other 11 months of the year.
  3. Most students need to be encouraged to see black history as American history.
  4. Black History Month tends to focus on the same small or limited cast of characters.
  5. We’re in a “post-racial” society– where we’ve moved beyond talking about black people as a distinct sub-population.
  6. The greatest event in black history– the election of President Barack Obama both in 2008 and 2012– both happened in November, not February

I’m certain those from the organization that created Negro History Week,  The Association of African American Life and History (ASALH)  are going to disagree with those who might say do away with it.

President Obama still believes there’s a reason to celebrate it.

“Our nation joins you in celebrating African American history,” Obama said in a statement released last month in advance of the 88th Annual Black History Month Luncheon, which was held today in our nation’s capital.   “Through centuries of struggle, and through the toil of generations, African Americans have claimed rights long denied.  This month we pay special tribute to the heroes, sung and unsung, at the heart of this journey.”

On Monday evening, the Capstone Association of Black Journalists at the University of Alabama is assembling a group of journalists and scholars to tackle this issue through a mass media lens.   We’ll look at how the mass media have presented the observance even as we ask questions about its relevance to WBMA-TV reporter Larry Miller,  UA English Professor Cassie Smith,  and UA Telecommunication and Film Professor Kristin Warner.     The event begins at 7 p.m. in Reese Phifer Hall.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?   Is Black History Month or Negro History Month STILL needed in 2014?   If so, WHY,  if not, why not?

Yes, Tim Steere and Ryan Phillips, You ARE Journalists!

It’s important that journalism students view themselves as not just authors or writers, but journalists from the day they begin studying journalism. Two University of Alabama graduate students seemed to shy away from the “journalist” label even as three of their classmates are inspiring a new generation of young journalists.

In our work as journalism professors, sometimes we have to play the role of encourager and promoter.    Such is the case today as I learned that not one, but TWO of my current students seemed to question their affiliation with the journalism profession.

In a recent blog post,  West Virginia University Graduate and University of Alabama Journalism Master’s Student Tim Steere questioned whether we should call him a journalist

He was writing about one of his first interviews.  This comes from someone who also worked for On campus Sports, a site that says its site provides content produced  “exclusively by student journalists on campus.”       Steere tweeted earlier this month how excited he was to be interviewing the record holder for striped bass.

Sounds like something a journalist would say.    Tim, my friend, YOU ARE A JOURNALIST!    Embrace your role.

Screen Shot 2014-02-22 at 1.58.41 PM

Steere is one of seven graduate students enrolled in our one-year community journalism master’s program here at The University of Alabama.   The program puts them to work during their last two academic terms in the nation’s first “Teaching Newspaper,” the Anniston Star.      The “COM-J” program, as it is affectionately called,  was hailed  by the Poynter Institute as one of the programs that had “bucked the grim trend.”

Steere’s  classmate, Ryan Phillips, who works as one of the editors of the Tuscaloosa- based alternative publication, Planet Weekly, identified himself as an “aspiring author.”

“I hate the term journalist, ” Phillips wrote recently.

WHAT?  You’re in a community journalism master’s program.   But, you hate the very label of which we should be most proud?

Starting with incoming freshmen, I work every day to encourage a new generation of journalists even as they are learning the tenets of our most noble profession.
Starting with incoming freshmen, I work every day to encourage a new generation of journalists even as they are learning the tenets of our most noble profession.

Time for some Cheerleading

As a long-time member of the Society of Professional Journalists,  I am one of the biggest proponents of us journalists identifying with a profession that has practices that are unmatched.

In almost every class I teach at the University of Alabama,  I have become a cheerleader for our profession, which is much-maligned by those who hear the horror stories of newspapers laying off reporters and news outlets that get the story wrong.

But, our unwavering commitment to accuracy, integrity, balance, fairness and ethical reporting is one of the things that separates us from just ANY author.    We are not just writing words.  We are writing the news and reporting the news in a way that communities need to move forward.  Our readers are citizens who depend on our professional work product to exercise their role of citizen in a free democracy.

I know there are those who have left black marks on our profession.   But,  every time I write here on this blog or produce a video for my YouTube Channel or when I was producing one of the hundreds of live TV newscasts more than a decade ago, I was (and still am) doing journalism.  And, I’m darn proud of it.

I just wish great students like Tim Steere and Ryan Phillips could share my pride.

imagesloveJNA Love of Journalism

Fortunately, just as there were two of my students shunning their journalism labels,  three other students were embracing their journalistic affiliations and recently inspired another generation of students– mostly those in high school– to learn and perfect the craft of feature writing.

Elizabeth Manning, in fact, wrote about teaching on Valentine’s Day some important skills about writing.

“Going back to the basics reminded me yet again that a writer cannot divorce journalism from feeling,” Manning noted in reflecting on the experience at the recent Alabama Scholastic Press Association Winter Convention here in Tuscaloosa.

One of her co-presenters, Laura Monroe,  reported that their session was so good that it sparked lots of questions from the up-and-coming journalists, one of whom noted “I want to be you guys one day.”

Wow!  Now THAT is the reaction we want to elicit from folks when we talk about what we do as journalists.

The theme for the ASPA Convention was “Spread the Love” and thanks to Monroe, Manning and their Elizabeth Lowder, we have some other young people who have the potential to be proud what we do in journalism enough to join the profession.