By Senator Lena C. Taylor
Over the last few years, you may have heard the phrase “cultural appropriation.” According to one definition, cultural appropriation is the act of adopting elements of an outside, often minority culture, including knowledge, practices, and symbols, without understanding or respecting the original culture and context. Thanks to Rep. Scott Allen (R-Waukesha), cultural appropriation has made its way to the Wisconsin State Capitol.
As many offices were closing up for the Christmas Break, Allen was busy putting coal in the inboxes of state legislators. You see, Allen decided that he, as a White legislator, needed to jump out in front of Black legislators to craft next year’s Black History Month Resolution. It’s not the first time he has sought to change or offer an alternative resolution to the ones introduced by Black legislators. Now, he has decided that Black History month should not be an observance solely comprised of the contributions of Black people. Therefore, Allen offered up a document that honored six Whites, members of the Mohican Indians, and four Black people.
This is not what Carter G. Woodson, known as the “Father of Black History” and the founder of Negro History week, had in mind when he started the annual observance. Born in 1875, Woodson was the son of formerly enslaved parents. In 1907, he obtained his BA degree from the University of Chicago and later his Master’s Degree. He received his PhD from Harvard University, in 1912.
In 1915, Woodson and friends founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. The following year, the Journal of Negro History was started. In 1926, Woodson developed “Negro History Week”, which later became Black History Month, and in 1937 published the first issue of the Negro History Bulletin.
Woodson believed that young African Americans were not being taught enough of their own heritage, and the achievements of their ancestors. He dedicated his life to educating African Americans about the achievements and contributions of their ancestors.
In issuing the first presidential proclamation honoring Black History Month, Gerald Ford said it was a time to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” Ford understood that the month didn’t just deal with the fight to end slavery or the underground railroad. It was about acknowledging and educating people about the ongoing contributions of African-Americans in this country.
Yet, Allen has decided that he knows best. He has determined that Dr. Woodson really didn’t mean for the observance to be about just Black people. Allen decided to co-opt Black History Month and change its meaning. All the while, Allen has done nothing in his tenure to work with Black legislators around meaningful legislation and policies to positively impact the lives of African Americans. Allen has chosen to adopt Black History Month without understanding or respecting the original context in which it was created. Not happening.