WNIJ Commentary-Why We Need History Months- 22 February 2002- Diana Swanson

February is Black History Month and March is Women’s History Month. Other months have been declared Latino History Month, Asian Awareness Month, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Awareness Month. Some people probably roll their eyes and wonder why we need such special observances and why we don’t have White History Month or Men’s History Month. For others, these yearly celebrations have become routine. They accept the History Months but don’t pause to consider why we still need these events. In part, this routine acceptance is a reflection of the limited success the History Months have had so far. Now many people realize that there is such a thing as African American history and women’s history. But we continue to need these reminders every year because the basic world view of our curricula in schools and colleges and of our society as a whole remains centered on and rooted in white male experiences and perspectives. The standard, the norm, is still defined the same way it was 30 or 40 years ago. For example, do we have the same need to identify a person’s gender or race if they are male or white as we do if they are female or black? We say doctor or woman doctor, writer or black writer, rather than man doctor or white writer. Maleness and whiteness is the standard, other characteristics are deviations. Including women’s history or Black history is often a matter of adding a famous person here, a paragraph on a social justice movement there, while the overall story, the standard historical narrative, remains the same. When our mental computers cease to have their defaults set on white and male, when the history that is taught throughout the year is the history of all of us, then we may not need Black History Month, Women’s History Month, and the other reminder months. Meanwhile, I encourage us all to get on out to a History Month event and start changing our mental default settings, that is, our assumptions about who and what is real and significant.