In a recent video post on, social commentator/comedian, Louis CK (who is white) was interviewed by Jay Leno on The Tonight Show. Louis CK joked, “Every year, white people add a hundred years to when slavery was. I’ve heard educated white people say slavery was four hundred years ago. No, it wasn’t,” he says adding, “It was one hundred and forty years ago. That’s two seventy-year-old ladies living and dying back to back. That’s how recently you could buy a guy.” Louis CK throws his hands up in a comedic pose: “And it’s not like slavery ended and everything has been amazing.”

Americans have recognized black history annually since 1926, first as Negro History Week. A Harvard scholar born to former slaves, Dr. Carter G. Woodson created Negro History Week after becoming discouraged that history books largely ignored the black American population. He chose the second week of February because it marked the birthdays of two men he felt greatly influenced the black American population: Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. As important contributions of African-Americans continued and became further documented, the week was expanded to a month and has become what we now know as Black History Month.

Why is Black History Month still relevant? Or, another question frequently asked, “Is the shortest month of the year enough?” To the latter, one easily can answer: Of course not. The effects of history are ongoing and should never be considered as remote from today’s realities. “The past causes the present, and so the future,” says the American Historical Association. As America’s newest generation of teens and twenty-somethings—Millennials—make their passage into adulthood, a deeper understanding of history can empower them to be part of the solution on a scale larger than ever before. According to Pew Research on Social and Demographic Change, Millennials will be the most educated generation in American history (read the full report here). For this reason and more, it is the responsibility of every inhabitant of the U.S. to ensure the accuracy and importance of a diverse social and racial education.

In a Hippo Reads exclusive reprint, writer Athena Lark examines portraits of slavery in contemporary African-American fiction. Through her analysis, Lark exposes possibilities for wholly new slave narratives to emerge: “The characters these writers depict in the novels betray the stereotypes of slaves, such as the Jezebel, the loyal and sanctimonious Mammy, or the always noble and obeying Uncle Tom.”

As the characters in novels like Edward P. Jones’s The Known World are critical to providing a nuanced and accurate portrayal of slave life in the U.S., Touré, the author of Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness, reminds Americans we do not live in a post-racial nation, in this Op-Ed Letter to America. Touré writes:

Surely Obama’s victory revealed something had changed in America, but it was not a signal that we’d reached the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s mountaintop world where race no longer matters and equality has been achieved. During the Obama administration “post-racial” and “race card” and “reverse racism” have run amok like gremlins in the language, obfuscating race and making discussions about it harder. America still has so much work to do regarding race and racism and “post-racial” is only making that work harder to do. That’s why “post-racial” and its cohorts must be stopped posthaste.

For these very reasons, the honoring and perpetuation of Black History Month, as short as the duration may be, is necessary to further the discussion of a legacy of racism that present-day citizens of the United States would be ignorant to ignore.

Image credit: Library of Congress

About the Authors

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Natashia Deón is a Los Angeles attorney and creator of the reading series Dirty Laundry Lit. A Pushcart Prize nominee, PEN Emerging Voices Fellow, Bread Loaf scholarship recipient, and VCCA Fellow, her work has appeared in The Rumpus, The Rattling Wall, BODY, The Feminist Wire, and other places. She has recently completed her first novel set on the eve of the Civil War.

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MFA, UC Riverside

Athena Lark is a writer, independent journalist and photographer. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of California, Riverside. Athena has been published in the literary journal The Whistling Fire, the Florida Times Union newspaper, Jacksonville Business Journal, Jacksonville Advocate, The Albany Herald, UNF Spinnaker, UNF Alumni Magazine. Athena also worked as the Associate Producer for the documentary “Slave Market Diaries” written and directed by Clennon King. Her Associate Producer credits include her work at WJXT Channel 4 News, Jacksonville, FL. Athena has worked as a contributing commentator on the radio talk show “The Advocate” AM 1460, Jacksonville Florida. She is currently writing the novel “Avenue of Palms“ and her memoir “Sailor Girl.”