*Before the end of February, if it hasn’t happened already, a white friend, colleague or acquaintance may come to you and ask, “Why do we have to have black history month?” Such persons may inquire in hushed tones, in an effort to show that they are genuinely curious and do not wish to offend, or they may be forceful and indignant in an effort to show you that they are offended.
Yes, some white folks are actually offended by the idea of a special month to honor the achievements and contributions of blacks in America. They are similarly opposed (though sometimes less vehemently) to other annual ethnic celebrations such as Hispanic/Latino Heritage Month (mid-September through mid-October), Native American Heritage Month (November) and Asian-American/Pacific Islander Heritage Month (May).
I have no interest in debating with vicious, close-minded individuals, but I’m more than happy to explain Black History Month is a great thing for all Americans. If you’ll grant me a moment, I’d like to share three basic reasons:
1. History Is Under Attack: Black History Month is an opportunity to counter the dangerous, non-scholarly movement by some conservatives to rewrite U.S. history by diluting or deleting the racist horrors of our past. Last year, Virginia governor Bob McConnell proclaimed “Confederate History Month” with a statement that ignored slavery and lionized the Southern insurrectionists as freedom fighters. In Texas, the state board of education adopted a new curriculum that (among other troubling changes) replaces the term “Atlantic slave trade” with the watered-down phrase “Atlantic triangular trade.” The state of Arizona outlawed ethnic studies in its high schools and colleges. Sarah Palin wrote a bestselling book which praised Booker T. Washington while ignoring the evils of Jim Crow and which ignored Martin Luther King, Mr.’s demands for economic as well as racial justice. These attempts to revise the American story have been generally denounced by historians and must be exposed for the politically-motivated sham that they are.
2. An Opportunity for Unity: Black History Month reminds us that the American Story was (and continues to be) written by men and women of all racial and ethnic groups. February provides a wonderful chance for us to study and celebrate that story in its fullness, embracing the racial and cultural diversity which has always been characteristically American (despite racist efforts to conceal this fact). In doing so, we must be honest enough to denounce the racist oppression which defined our nation for most of its history. In this way, we will honor the sacrifices of fallen heroes, remind ourselves of the enormous social progress we have made and affirm our commitment to the noble and unifying concepts of “liberty and justice for all” and “E Pluribus Unum” (out of the many comes the one).
3. Black Achievements Can Inspire Everyone: You needn’t be descended from Mother Africa to be motivated by the towering accomplishments of great black men and women. I defy anyone, of any heritage, to not feel a charge of excitement while reading how Dr. Daniel Hale Williams performed the first successful open heart surgery, how Harriet Tubman bravely led hundreds of people from slavery to freedom, how the intellectuals of Egypt, Timbuktu and Cordoba pioneered mathematics, astronomy, philosophy and the arts, how Garrett Morgan descended into a fume-filled tunnel and rescued trapped workers using his gas mask invention, how Mary McLeod Bethune built schools from scratch, how Matthew Henson discovered the North Pole, how Shirley Chisholm shook up national politics with a bold bid for the White House in 1972, how a kid named Barack defied the odds to become President of the United States… We could continue ad infinitum! As blacks, we take personal pride in the achievements of these and countless other true life heroes. But their greatness will surely energize anyone who hears their stories.
So, yes, America still needs Black History Month and all of our special months — including Women’s History Month (March) and Gay and Lesbian Pride Month (June). This nation belongs to all of us. It always has and always will. Because it was built, molded, nurtured and refined by all of us. Therefore, I happily and hopefully invite everyone to seize the opportunity to commemorate and learn about black history — during this month and throughout your lifetime.
Thanks for listening. I’m Cameron Turner and that’s my two cents.
THINK! IT AIN’T ILLEGAL…YET!