"More Than a Month." That's the title of a thought-provoking and amusing documentary that aired this month on the PBS series Independent Lens. In it African American filmmaker Shukree Hassan Tilghman embarks on a quest to end Black History Month. You can watch the film online if you act fast--it's available on the Independent Lens website until March 2.
Why, Tilghman asks, is teaching about black history--which is, after all, American history--crammed into one month? Why do we stuff the stories of black people into a box that in many places is pulled out only during February? What if we didn't have a Black History Month? What if more school districts followed Philadelphia's lead and made African American History a graduation requirement?
What if children's books with African American topics were published in September or October instead of February or January? OK, that's not one of the questions Tilghman investigates in his film (although he does discuss corporate sponsorships and advertisements and the money to be made during Black History Month "season"). But it's something I've wondered about. My next book is about George Washington and his "people," as he called his slaves. It's coming out next year just in time for--you guessed it--Black History Month. Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining. I trust the sales and marketing pros and I'm thrilled the book's coming out when they think it will get the best start. I embrace Black History Month as an opportunity to celebrate African American stories and contributions. It can be an empowering time for us all. But I wonder, does launching most black history books in the Black History Month "season" help confine African American history to the February box? I don't know. But I think it's worth thinking about.