Commemorative months don’t honor: they separate.

graphic: Elizabeth Teng

graphic: Elizabeth Teng

From elementary school, I remember the celebrations, books, assemblies, speeches, and crafts we used to do to acknowledge whichever commemorative month it was. In February, I remember attending countless gatherings that focused on historical figures who greatly impacted black history, including Martin Luther King Jr. and President Abraham Lincoln. I remember hearing daily tidbits on the announcements in March, detailing the struggle for women’s rights. But looking back, I find these celebrations curious. As an elementary school student, I never questioned the purpose of these months, merely accepting them at face value and assuming that their only intention was to further honor groups who have received a significant amount of poor and inferior treatment in the past. And I believe we automatically assume this because as we are growing up, higher authority tells us that the purpose of these months is to remember and honor their history and current achievements, and that these groups have earned this form of remembrance. Yet now, when thinking back to those celebrations, I realize that even though they supposedly intend to welcome a group into society, they only further widen the gap between the group and the community.

Having just one month is not a sufficient amount of time to honor any group. The groups that are allotted this minimal time for remembrance definitely deserve more representation, considering all their contributions to the American story. On the other hand, something that is remembered all year round is white history, which is why we don’t have a White History Month. The practice of subconsciously honoring white history has been ingrained into the nation’s rituals, since white superiority has always been prevalent. This makes commemorative months such as Women’s History Month, Black History Month, Autism Awareness Month, and South Asian Heritage Month feeble attempts at justifying the groups’ under-representation in the way American history is taught.

If we now consider one month as under-representation, then we should be even more ashamed that previously, these commemorative months were only one week long, according to the Library of Congress. When it was understood that the history of these groups could not be honored in such a short time span, these weeks were extended to months. But still, having one month to recognize a group implies that their history is separate from American history, which is taught during half of our high school years, denoting its importance. These groups are unquestionably American, and have a rightful place in our history and society; they have earned this much through their heritage of struggles. In the past, these months were created to ensure that other groups were honored, and one month was just a starting point as we advanced towards equality. However, that advancement has since stagnated and is now like a ferris wheel in midair, stuck in rotation. It’s about time to realize that we must embrace equality and that these groups—despite anything else we call them—are Americans who deserve to be honored all year.

Even though the goals of these commemorative months are to mend the issues of heavy discrimination in the past, they are working in the wrong direction to accomplish this. These months can just pick at the scabs of old wounds. Since dedicating a month to a specific group is in itself a form of separate recognition, and therefore discrimination, these months cause a retreat to situations parallel to the past rather than further advancement of a group towards equality. Rather than having the history of all American groups taught and shared in an integrated and equal way, the alternative of having separate months does not satisfy the amount of remembrance they deserve. February, for example, is dedicated to honoring black history. This amount of time does not serve the purpose of fully honoring blacks; instead, it only offers a glimpse into their history.

Our cultural and social complexity has been one of the many treasured aspects of America, and rightfully so. In school, at home, and through the media, we are constantly being urged to embrace and include differences, because they add more “flavor” to the big American melting pot. If something is added to a melting pot, it is implied that it melts into the whole. If that is so, then why do we drag groups out of even the opportunity to be viewed equally? By identifying different groups to celebrate monthly, we are disregarding the fundamental purpose of the American melting pot.