Black History Is More Than Month's Trivia

Article excerpt

Byline: Nicole Johnson McGill, Times-Union staff writer

Another Black History Month has come and gone, and I'm still recovering from the whirlwind.

I spoke at five schools in February, from elementary to college. An estimated 700 people patiently endured my Black History Month presentation. (Well, perhaps 50 or so of those 700 were less than patient. They squirmed and fidgeted as if someone had let loose a bucket of fire ants. Since they were first-graders, and I happen to live with a first-grader, I forgave them.)

During the question-and-answer segments after my presentations, I was asked a variety of questions about being black and being a writer. Some of them I'd been asked before.

"When is it appropriate to use the word black vs. African-American?"

"Do you ever get writer's block?"

One question, from a fourth-grader at a predominately white school, was a first.

"What do black people eat?"

Another memorable comment was overheard at a high school.

As I was working my way through the crowded hallway toward the auditorium, a young black woman said she didn't want to attend the school's Black History Month program. She said she resented that hundreds of years of history were crammed into one month, and she wanted no part of it.

Her sentiment is one I've heard over and over, and I happen to agree with her -- to a point. There is no such thing as "black history," in my opinion. Black people in this country have not existed in a separate world from whites. Despite segregation and Jim Crow, blacks and whites have always co-existed along with every other racial or ethnic group in this country. You can't tell one story and omit the others. Our histories are inseparable and should be integrated all year long. …