History isn't a parade of heroes

It’s time to end Black History Month, writes Jonathan Zimmerman, a NYU history and education professor, in Education Week. He’s responding to the story about the LA elementary teachers who let students carry photos of O.J. Simpson, RuPaul and Dennis Rodman in a Black History Month parade. (The three teachers were suspended for three days and reassigned to new schools.)

. . . reducing history to a cavalcade of heroes put each one above reproach, giving Black History Month a quasi-religious character. It also spawned ridiculous debates about which deities should be admitted to the temple. The Los Angeles school parade saluted Michael Jackson alongside King, Tubman, and Nelson Mandela. Was Jackson — an accused child molester — a “great” African-American? Who cares?

Worst of all, Black History Month let the rest of the school year off the hook. By isolating black history in a single month, Americans could effectively ignore it at most other times.

Nice idea. It’s about as likely to happen as O.J. catching the “real killer.”

About Joanne


  1. Elizabeth says:

    I like the idea of heros, as long as they are people who did something more than act as a celebrity. When I was a kid, “Black History” included MLK, Dr. Carver, Booker T Washington (I recommend ALL school aged children be required to read Up From Slavery), etc. Heros give children examples to emulate – the point is not that they are perfect – the Bible has good examples of great people who had obvious flaws- but that the individual can and does make a difference.

  2. We need Black History Month.

    Maybe someday we’ll even have a black president.

  3. Heroes should be people of substance; of good character and real accomplishment. Being able to make pots of money in the NBA/NFL, or by peddling rap music doesn’t qualify. The culture that rap music celebrates and encourages should be condemned, not emulated. Professional athletes and entertainers should be celebrated only if they conduct themselves as good people. Culture matters and too much of today’s is toxic to good character, good behavior, good family, academic accomplishment and good employment.

  4. nailsagainsttheboard says:

    We should also get rid of “Kwanzaa”, a Marxist-inspired pseudo-African “holiday”, invented by a former member of the “United Slaves” black separatist group of the 1960’s, convicted torturer and “Professor” of Black Studies (or something like that) Ron Karenga. The 7 symbols of Kwanzaa are the identical symbols on the 7-headed snake of the Symbionese Liberation Army (of Patty Hearst fame). No one in any country in Africa celebrates this! I stopped the Kwanzaa nonsense in my classroom when I researched its true origin. Next on the list–Cinco de Mayo, a Chicano–not Mexican–“holiday”. Black, Hispanic, Asian, Native American history is AMERICAN HISTORY.

  5. How about students learning real history for a change – including Black History.

  6. Richard Aubrey says:

    History certainly isn’t a march of heroes…when it’s western civ or US history.
    This is not about history. It’s an attempt by those who feel themselves superior to make blacks feel better about themselves.
    Because, you know, blacks couldn’t possibly feel good about themselves without help from white liberals.

  7. Black History Month as it is, is nothing more than a leftist “holiday” of sorts. As someone who is black, I believe it is pointless precisely because of the nonsense stated in the article. It should be about American history, period. But this article highlights what has happened to education as a whole. It’s devoid of any content, of any facts. It’s anti-intellectual at its core. So you have half-educated teachers who put pop culture figures as symbols of black history. I bet everything I own that none of those “teachers” knows who Fredrick Douglass was. Or who George Washington Carver was and what he did in the field of agricultural science.

  8. George Washington Carver was an accomplished scientist but his advice to his fellow black men was to avoid conflict with whites and do what you’re told. He, like Booker T., embraced accommodation.

    Cinco de Mayo celebrates a wonderful victory against anti-imperialism but it was completely transformed by the large American beer companies. Not one of my students last year who celebrated their Mexican pride on the 5th of May could tell me anything about what happened on that day.

    I would say something about Kwanzaa but I take it as seriously as Festivus.

    The week off we have in February is called Presidents’ Week which I hoped would be changed someday to include Susan B. Anthony who was born on Feb. 15.

    I actually proposed that to my Supe. He called me in the next day to talk about it and said he’d never heard of her. And then when he looked her up, he said he was struck my how ugly she was.

    Cesar Chavez is far more complicated because there were two of him. The early and the latter. Most people who were close to him discovered he turned into a crazy man toward the end but keep that a secret to honor the man he started out to be.

    Martin Luther King used to be a great hero of mine–until I read a couple of his biographies. I still admire him and the movement quite a bit, but not as much as before.

  9. Robert Wright I disagree with your assessment of Washington Carver and Booker T. I also think you do not understand the point of the article. Both men, who by the way were born into slavery believed that goal for blacks was self-sufficiency. Being left alone to developed in a society that was still hostile to blacks. It waasn’t about accomodation. If you re-read the article, these individuals weren’t even considered by the “teacher”. That’s the problem in general, when our culture embraces Hollywood and wife beating murderer as the ideal for Black History Month!?!?!?

  10. I am completely clueless why Michael Jackson and OJ retain such a high status in the black community.

    As for Carver and Booker T, it’s difficult for me to dismiss what W.E.B. Du Bios wrote about them.

  11. SuperSub says:

    Whether or not Carver and Booker T were ideal black rights supporters, the two of them did more for the country than all of the current crop of athletes and entertainers (of any race) combined that are revered as heroes by our misguided youth.

    Any celebration of Black History Month that I see put on by a school (elementary to college) inevitably ends up as nothing more than a whine-fest about modern ‘racism.’

  12. I’m disturbed by a school principal’s comment about Susan B. Anthony being “ugly.” Already there are too many young men who dismiss women as unworthy of attention and consideration on any level if they do not find them physically attractive. We do not need to have adults sending the same message.

  13. It wasn’t a principal. It was the superintendent.

  14. I can tell you about when there’ll be an end to BHM. About never. Way too much invested in identity politics to back away. Plus when are the TV networks supposed to show the Martin Lawrence movies?


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by kriley19, JoanneLeeJacobs. JoanneLeeJacobs said: New blog post: History isn't a parade of heroes http://www.joannejacobs.com/2010/03/history-isnt-a-parade-of-heroes/ […]