I've met a lot of white people who don't ever say that, or if they do, they're not being sincere. Sometimes, I hear white people wonder aloud instead -- or more often, grumble aloud -- "Why do black people get to have their own history month, and white people don't?"
This should be a simple question with a simple answer, but when white people grumble like that, I never seem to have one quick-and-ready response. And then, the responses that I do offer rarely seem to fully address whatever it is that's bothering the grumbler about Black History Month, and about the lack of an annual White History Month.
Sometimes I've replied sarcastically, "Well, it is the shortest month, after all." At other times I've pointed out (paraphrasing Tim Wise), "But white people do have their own history months, lots of them. They just have tricky names, like March, April, May and so on."
If the white grumbler seems more willing to listen, I'll go on to say that I see minority history/heritage months as a way of making up for what's still lacking at all other times in our mainstream cultural, educational, and other societal settings -- that is, a fully integrated and proportionally accurate representation of racial and ethnic minorities. We may be making progress in those terms (and even that's debatable), but we're just not there yet.
These explanations rarely fall on suddenly convinced ears. I can usually tell that something behind those ears is still grumbling, probably something about how "they can do their own separate, special things, and no one calls that racist, but if we want to, then suddenly we're racists. It's reverse racism, a racist double standard!" And so on.
Other forms of this common white complaint about non-white collectivity abound, of course. Here's another example, from a two-minute video that a reader sent me a few weeks ago. This young woman, who identifies herself at YouTube as "futurewhiteoprah," was disturbed enough by the label of a black haircare product to speak out to the world about it:
[UPDATE (2/4/10): As Aiyo notes in a comment below, "The girl removed the video guess she couldn't handle people calling her out on her ignorance cest la vie." The most relevant parts of what futurewhiteoprah said about a black-owned haircare business are transcribed below.]
Here's the most interesting part of futurewhiteoprah's complaint, which she offers after stating that she has no problem with a section in stores labeled "Ethnic Haircare Products":
Well, I'm looking at this little jar, and right here, really little, really hard to see, right there, is a picture of a black lady with black hair, and it says, AMBAI [sic*] member, the Proud Lady, 100% black-owned company, in Atlanta, Georgia. I'm not going to say that Georgia has anything to do with that, because that would be racist.
But how blatantly racist can you be on a bottle of haircare product? "The Proud Lady, a 100% black-owned company." If I made a haircare product, and I said, "The Proud Lady, a 100% white-owned company," I'd be an Aryan, and a supremacist, and a racist, and, I'd be horrible. . . . Do you think that's racist? Cuz I kinda do. It's more racist than "Ethnic Haircare Products." And I'm saying, if I made a haircare product that said "100% white-owned company," I'd be bitched at, a lot. So, let me know what you think.
I find this young white woman's confusion a common one. A lot of white people just don't think it's right or fair that it's widely considered okay for people who aren't white to get together under the name of their race or ethnicity, but it's not considered okay for white people to do that. As with futurewhiteoprah, the main concern of those who complain like this seems to be that they and other white people supposedly can't get together under the banner of whiteness without being labeled "racist"; just why any other groups would want to get together under their own banner is of no concern to them. The grumbling is often less about what "they" do and why they do it, and more about what white people "can't" do.
If such frowning white people would simply ask, "Why? Why do black people and others do some things on their own?" they might stop frowning. A bit of Googling in search of answers might expose them, for instance, to the reasoning of John and Maggie Anderson, an African-American couple in Chicago who just spent an entire year trying to contribute all of their money to black-owned businesses.
As they recently told the Chicago Tribune, that wasn't easy to do, and part of the problem was that they too were faced, "at almost every turn," with "the insistence from some whites that [their] experiment was an exercise in racism." This is a charge that the black-business-supporting Andersons reject:
The Andersons -- he's a financial adviser with degrees from Harvard and Northwestern; she's a business consultant who works from home and has a law degree and MBA from the University of Chicago -- said they came up with the "Empowerment Experiment" to help solve persistent ills surrounding "underserved communities."
They note that African-Americans carry nearly $850 billion in spending power but that very little of that money circulates through those "underserved" communities. Most businesses in those neighborhoods are owned by people of other races who live elsewhere.
Then and now, the Andersons ask critics to look beyond racist implications. In March, they changed the name of their project, originally called the "Ebony Experiment," to "better articulate what's in our heart and what our end game is," Maggie Anderson said.
They contend that robust, black-owned businesses help restore impoverished African-American neighborhoods, which yield less crime, more jobs, less drug abuse, stronger families and better schools.
Indeed, other non-white collective efforts have similarly persuasive -- and decidedly anti-racist -- motives, and results. Again, though, white people who complain about such collectivities rarely seem willing to ask about the reasons for them, so stuck are they on the false idea of a double-standard, and on "not being allowed" to do something that other people are allowed to do.
I've also found that when trying to explain the difference here -- why one form of collectivity is generally okay when the other isn't -- reference to "white supremacy" sometimes helps. Exclusion of non-white people from all-white gatherings smacks of racism because so many examples from the past have been explicitly motivated by just that -- white supremacist desires to separate white people from the supposedly contaminating presence of racial minorities.
On the other hand, such non-white gatherings as history months, black-owned businesses, minority organizations and clubs, and even beauty contests, have often been a response to white supremacy -- a way of reasserting, and even repairing, something about a racial group that white supremacist ideology and practice has long denigrated, and damaged. Throughout the history of the U.S., and of the West more generally, the very concept of whiteness itself has been all about dominance of other people and extraction of their labor and resources. As a result, white people are still the group that's generally on top, which means that there's no corrective reason -- nor a good celebratory one -- for white people to gather together as members of their race.
And one more thing -- unlike racist all-white gatherings (such as that proposed, blockheaded basketball league that's been making the rounds recently), minority racial or ethnic gatherings are rarely exclusive -- from what I've seen, other people are often welcome. Which is not the case, from what I've also seen, when white people get together under the banner of racial whiteness.
So if any white people ever do get a serious effort going to start up a White History Month, I obviously won't be interested in joining them. I would be interested to see, though, if they have any understanding at all of why other racial and ethnic history months and so on exist. Because I'd be willing to be that they don't.
* whitefutureoprah apparently misreads an acronym on the haircare product's jar. AHBAI stands for the American Health and Beauty Aids Institute. As their site explains, "AHBAI is an internationally renowned trade association representing the world's leading Black-owned companies that manufacture ethnic hair care and beauty related products featuring the Proud Lady Symbol. AHBAI members serve Black America by providing jobs and scholarships and by teaching consumers how to recycle their dollars in the Black community."