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Don Roach: Black History Month Needs to Go

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

 

I love Morgan Freeman, the actor. I’m not the biggest fan of Morgan Freeman, political activist. But there’s one item where he and I agree – let’s do away with Black History month. In an interview with 60minutes several years ago, Freeman argued that black history is American history saying why should black history be relegated to a month? I couldn’t agree more.

This month we celebrate the exploits of many African-Americans from American history who contributed in making society what it is today. People like Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., Frederick Douglass, Atticus Finch, Rosa Parks, etc. made significant contributions to American history. But I’m with Morgan that a month, any month, where we celebrate a group of people isn’t the best idea.

I buy the argument that historical contributions made by black people have a history of marginalization. Yet, that is not really the case in 2014. This doesn’t mean prejudice is dead, but it does mean that racism has lost a considerable amount of power it had in the past. For example, in the 1950s and 1960s use of the word “nig—r” by a white person would not be uncommon or universally frowned upon by society. Today, just ask Riley Cooper of Philadelphia Eagles if it’s ok to use the word without fear of backlash.

Furthermore, Black people are trying to beat back the cries of “reverse racism” rather than having to revert their eyes away from white people if both are walking down the same street. Simply put, we live in a world where racism’s power to oppress has been significantly reduced and that’s a very good thing.

Instead of electing a month to call out black history, we should be ensuring that the contributions by black people are included in everyday reading. The point here is that racism’s purpose is to create a “me” and a “you”. From the oppressor’s standpoint, “me” is good, powerful, intelligent, and better than “you”. From the perspective of the oppressed “you” is inferior, dumb, powerless, and not as good as “me”. During the Jim Crow era and earlier, Black History Month (originally Negro History Week) helped demonstrate that all the “you”s in the country had contributed to an American society full of “me”s. The prevailing thought during those days was that black people were an inferior race and their historical contributions were often ignored.

Thing is we no longer live in the Jim Crow era and it’s high time we wake up to that reality.

Further, how can “you” and “me” ever become “we”, if we’re always focused on what makes us different and not what draws us together? If we always focus on what went wrong and not what we’re doing right how is their progress? I’m not Russian. I’m not Italian. You might not be black. But we’re Americans and that should create a common bond. Why can’t we focus on what binds us together and celebrate our shared history - all of it?

It’s time we let go of Black History Month and begin to embrace the notion that America is becoming more “we” and no longer a “you” and “me”.

Does it make you uncomfortable to talk about getting rid of Black History Month?

If you’re a black person and I’m making you uncomfortable, good because it’s on purpose. If you’re a well-intentioned non-Black person and I’m making you uncomfortable, good that’s on purpose too. I dare you to ask yourself why we need a Black History Month? Are we saying that eleven out of twelve months we don’t want our kids to learn about what Black people did in history? Are we saying that we feel guilty for ignoring said people’s contributions and need to designate a month to make ourselves feel better? Are we saying that we continue to ignore the historical exploits of black people?

I haven’t found a really good reason in the 21st century to continue the practice of a Black History month. We and our children should be learning about American history - a history filled with many black, white, and other skin toned people who played an active role in fighting for the freedoms we enjoy today.

So let’s end Black History Month and start celebrating history. Is that too radical?

Don Roach can be reached at don@donroach.org. Follow Don on Twitter at @donroach34.

 

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