On the Advantage and Disadvantage of Black History Month for Life: The Creation of the Post-Racial Era

This article takes the Nietzschean dictum that history must “serve life” as a point of departure for an analysis of the American institution of Black History Month. Many continue to place great faith in the power of historical education to solve problems of race in America. Against this common-sense view, this article argues that the excessive historicization of the problem of racism is at least as oppressive as forgetting. The black history propagated during this month has mostly been a celebration that it is history and thus a thing of the past. The article makes the claim that it is precisely a surfeit of black history that has encouraged the view that racism is vanishing in the river of time. The constant demand to view American racism through a historical frame has led to the perception that racism is a problem that must be historically transcended rather than solved. In other words, it is through the widespread dissemination of black history during Black History Month and elsewhere that the historical category of the post-racial era has been constituted. The postracial era is not, as is so often claimed, a denial of historical context. On the contrary, it is an assertion that the horrors of racist discrimination were once real but are now over and done with.