Is African American history ‘special interest history’ ?

THINKING ABOUT RACE (March 2011). February is Black History Month. As we reflect on what that means to both white people and black people, a further segment from the article quoted here last month seems relevant.  Lisa Heldke proposes that “persistently white colleges” become places where it is possible “to make whites’ location in the system of privilege and oppression visible to whites.”  Following is one of her examples.

There is the problem, she writes, “of presuming that ‘white’ culture equals culture-in-general. This is the familiar presumption that white American history is ‘history,’ whereas African American history is ‘special interest history.’ ….

“In short, challenging the centrality, the presumed primacy, of white culture is an activity that can be engaged in by whites inhabiting a predominantly white institution.  But wouldn’t such efforts be enhanced by drawing from the insights and perspectives of racialized Others?  Without doubt, I do not mean to suggest that it is better to challenge white centrality from an all-white or predominantly-white location.  But… it is not at all impossible to effect such a challenge from such a location….”

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