A New Jersey deli owner upset people when he decided to celebrate March as “White History Month.” According to the (obviously) right-wing website Right Wing News, Jim Boggess believes he shouldn’t have to be ashamed of being white. He thinks all people should be proud of who and what they are, regardless of skin color and ethnicity.
While Boggess has a point, this is hardly the way to do it. The reason we don’t have an official “White History Month” in this country is not because white people don’t matter, it’s because we don’t need it. Every American History course taught in every level of school teaches, and celebrates, white history. By contrast, when we teach black history, we generally limit it to the slave trade and some of the Civil Rights Movement.
Right Wing News trumpeted Boggess’ decision to do this by saying that the move angered “race-baiting leftists.” Author Warner Todd Huston said it was race-baiters that went to the police, and more or less cheered the fact that such a dastardly ploy didn’t work.
According to NewJersey.com, a bi-racial neighbor, Bhakti Curtis said that the sign mocks “Black History Month.” He also pointed out how the “t” in the second instance of the word “white” was crossed; lower down, in the style of the KKK and other white supremacy groups, rather than across the top. The sign, which reads, “CELEBRATE YOUR WHITE HERITAGE IN MARCH, WHITE HISTORY MONTH,” carried mixed-case letters, and the “t” in question has since been “edited” to look more traditional.
Boggess believes he’s just exercising his right to free speech, but the town has had mixed reactions. Some agree with Boggess, while others believe it reflects badly on everyone there. One of the objections came from someone in the Business Improvement District, who asked him to take it down.
Boggess also said, according to NJ.com, that if any racial discrimination has been going on, it’s been against him because he’s a white man who isn’t allowed to be proud of being white. Every other ethnicity gets to publicly celebrate their heritage in some way. He said:
“I just want to be included. Why is this such a big deal? I don’t get it.”
No, he clearly doesn’t get it. And neither do a lot of other white people. A 2011 survey showed that whites now think there’s more anti-white bias in our society than anti-black bias. These people are totally oblivious to their white privilege, and don’t understand at all that we have a long way to go before we’ve achieved real equality here.
Nobody’s excluding him, either. It’s highly unlikely he’s wondered why the histories of other races are so limited in American History texts, despite the fact that we have a large population of people who aren’t white. These are groups that were also instrumental in building our nation. We don’t explore black history very much. We don’t explore Native American history very much. We don’t spend much time exploring the contributions of these two groups to the country we have today, either, to say nothing of the contributions other groups have made. We kind of gloss over it, highlighting certain moments and influential figures, but there’s nothing that’s really comprehensive.
And if we rewrote American History curricula to include more detailed looks at the heritages of even these two groups (to say nothing of other groups) there would be a huge backlash from right-wing white people. It’d make the backlash we’re seeing over the new AP History curriculum look like the most inconsequential, minor disagreement ever.
Perhaps, in addition to asking Boggess to take his sign down, people should point out to him the reasons why we don’t have an official “White History Month,” here. These people need to understand white privilege and racism, but they’re willfully ignorant.
Boggess hasn’t yet taken down his sign, according to NJ.com. However, he said he’s feeling a lot of pressure, but he’s going to leave it up for the time being, because rights.
Featured image by Quickmeme, of Dwight, from “The Office,” via rogerogreen.com.