Beyond the Noise: A White Male’s Perspective on Black History Month

Dan Berry  •  February 13, 2024

“Black History Month.” As I sat here and reflected on that title, I began to wonder why there is so much controversy around efforts to recognize and celebrate the contributions of Black individuals throughout our history.

Was it Black history itself? Was it the word “month?” What is it that has continually ignited some level of controversy around efforts to celebrate contributions that for the most part have been overlooked or just purposely left out of our story.

It is easy to get caught up in what someone else may feel about Black History Month.  So easy to let all the noise of opposition, confusion, and disdain dominate the portals of information.

This year I decided to approach this month with my usual support and reflection, but I also felt that one small element should be added to my efforts, and that is to explain to you why Black History Month is important to me.

Telling the Truth

As this nation becomes more and more diverse, it makes sense that individuals connect to Black History for a variety of reasons.  Our personal experiences, identity, and values determine whether or not we make room for untold truths that have shaped who we are.

As a white male, it has been taught or implied to me that it was people like me who have contributed the most to our rise as a nation.  It was our contributions that got most of the attention.

For too long it was just easier to dismiss the building blocks that were coming from indigenous peoples who were, more often that not, dehumanized and labeled as savages.  On top of that, the narrative has been perpetuated that enslaved peoples or people who lived under Jim Crow laws had nothing to contribute that would be worth noting.

Everyone wants to talk about how we live in a different time, where things have changed and where so much progress has been made.  I agree, so it is important to start telling truth about those who were left out.

Photo credit: USA Today

Breaking the Silence

What kind of a person would I be if I took all the credit for who I have become and held secret all those who helped me along the way?  None of us have gotten where we are on our own.  Neither has our great nation.  We are not where we are because of the sole contributions of those who have been racialized as white.  If I am ignorant concerning the contributions that people of color have made in order for me to have the life I have, then I must open my heart to learn and celebrate their work.  No more secrets, no more glossing over their sacrifices.  

Black History is important to me because it gives me an opportunity to learn and better understand the diverse experiences within the Black community.  Learning about accomplishments is so important, but also the opportunity to learn about the struggles that Black individuals faced, both past and present, can give me the context that I need.  When something comes to light, or let’s say you understand the back story to what is really going on, you will find yourself motivated to become a part of a work that still needs to be done.  Finally, Black History Month is a time to appreciate and celebrate the rich cultural heritage of Black communities. Doing life together and sharing our traditions can only enrich our experiences.

Ultimately, the importance of Black History is deeply personal and varies for each individual. So my prayer is that you would find your connection to it. Once connected, may your heart be enriched and motivated to embrace your neighbors’ contributions that have helped us all.

More on Black History Month

Dan Berry is the author of Navigating Diversity In Our Most Segregated Hour, a Certified Instructor for the What LIES Between Us and Confronting Whiteness courses, and advises individuals and organizations on how to take first steps toward racial healing through Bridge Building Solutions.
He has pastored for forty years in Iowa.  After pastoring in predominantly white spaces for several years, he began to realize the need to bring about racial healing in the body of Christ. For the last 30 years he has worked to bridge ethnic and cultural divides, a work that has led him into confronting the church’s complicity in upholding systems of racism.