*Black history month is often attacked as a tool of oppression because it allows black history to be ignored the rest of the year. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Eliminating black history month would not create any urgency to focus on African-American interests throughout the year, nor does having black history month prevent the year round pursuit of African-American studies now.
This last point is critical because black history month essentially forces people to approach topics from the perspective of a minority group. And perspective is not an either-or proposition. Individual people, and we as a society, should appreciate any given situation from multiple points of view. And when this is done instead of only the traditional (white male) perspective, a fuller understanding of the situation is the result.
One contemporary issue that would benefit from multiple perspectives is that of anti-bullying efforts in schools. Most people agree on most efforts to prevent bullying; it is a common sense notion to want a safe place for children to learn and grow. But that mutual understanding breaks down when the people being bullied are (or suspected of being, or sympathetic to) homosexuals.
Some approach this subject with a conservative Christian perspective. Consequently they understand their faith as a reason to communicate the detestability of a homosexual lifestyle to God. While these people probably do not sincerely want to cause the death of homosexual youth, they do sincerely want to see a decrease in the number of homosexuals. They believe anything they say to promote that goal to be protected by the Constitutional freedoms of speech and religion.
Some others view this subject with a perspective based in the struggle for citizenship privileges among gay Americans. To these people stating a belief that gay people are an abomination, or that they will go to hell, goes beyond simple evangelism. They regard such speech as hateful bullying and a catalyst for multiple suicides among homosexual and heterosexual youth.
These two perspectives are in direct opposition to one another in how they view certain statements to and about homosexuals. For society to use only one of these perspectives would mean shunning the other group as not fully part of society. However appreciating both points of view allows for a middle ground.
Appreciating both perspectives in this instance means truly accepting the sincerity of those with the Christian point of view. For them it really is about the individual souls of people and the course of American society. It also means empathizing with those with the gay American point of view. They really are struggling to gain acceptance in American society.
The compromise, then, is to prohibit those with the Christian perspective from subjecting others to their beliefs without being given a choice. Basically restricting speech regarding these beliefs to spaces in which everyone there has opted to be there. An afterschool club would be an appropriate space; the school cafeteria would not.
Of course some who regard the situation from a Christian perspective might see this as fully accommodating homosexuality instead of a compromise. But it is a compromise because they still have a forum for expressing their views.
Public spaces are regarded very highly in this country and speech in them is closely watched. Shouting “fire” in a crowded theater or using profanity on network television are prohibited because of the public nature of the forum and because we as a society see the potential to harm others. Consistently stating someone is worthless creates a similar potential for harm and should likewise be banned from public space.
The fact that religion is the source of the prohibited behavior does not change anything. The Christian Bible contains passages which negatively portray women, ethnic mixing, and other religions. But as a society we do not allow people to publically claim all women should be subservient to men.
The fight for full citizenship privileges by homosexual Americans is the new civil rights movement. Not because gay people are going through what black people went through, but because at their core both movements challenge society to see things from an alternative perspective and further live up to its potential.
Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War. His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at [email protected]