Illustration by Claudia King

Black History Month is celebrated in the United States every February, originating in the U.S. in 1970. Despite having existed for almost 50 years, the celebration of the month is still controversial. Many argue that Black History Month is heavily celebrated, but months celebrating other races either do not exist or do not receive much attention.

America prides itself upon bringing together a variety of cultures to create one united country. For the most part, we do a pretty good job. As time passes, more people educate themselves about other cultures and become more tolerant of new and unfamiliar concepts. We are making progress. But as much as we may wish it wasn’t true, our country has a troubling past, and we must recognize it.

Slavery was legal in our country for almost 250 years. It was officially abolished in late 1865. Racism did not end there. It continued, and still exists to this day. It can be bold and obvious- for example, the use of blackface – or it can be subtle- for instance, when in school, we heavily cover the history of white Americans, but not do the same for people of color. Racism in some forms has become so commonplace that many don’t even notice it- but this doesn’t mean that we can’t change that for the better.

Some of the Tom and Jerry cartoons from the 1900s used racial stereotypes. This was not as controversial an issue then, but that doesn’t mean that it was okay then, or that it is okay now. In 2014, Warner Bros. Entertainment, owner of the classic cartoons, began to release its dvd Tom and Jerry: The Complete Second Volume with a special message included at the beginning: “These depictions were wrong then and are wrong today. … Some of these cartoons are being presented as they were originally created, because to do otherwise would be the same as claiming these prejudices never existed.”

We as a country must follow their lead. We cannot ignore America’s treatment of minorities. In order to better our future, we must acknowledge and learn from our past, as shameful as it may be. Celebrating Black History Month is a great place to start. After all, why wouldn’t we want to learn more when given the chance?

It is possible to make change- the past five years alone show this. America has a long way to go, but in celebrating different cultures and histories, it is on the right track.