Thursday, February 10, 2005

The Hue of History

It’s that time of year again. Each February scores of newspapers, magazines, television networks and big-name corporations revel for 28 days (29 days in leap years) in sharing with the rest of us the exploits and triumphs throughout history of people of color. Yes, the proverbial Black History Month.

I simply detest it!

Now my problem has nothing to do with the desire to trivialize the contributions made by blacks to American and world history. It also has nothing to do with the bigoted and asinine complaint of reverse discrimination – “Well, we don’t celebrate White History Month.”

No, my anger with Black History Month concerns the fact that we as a society still need to designate a particular time period to recognize the contributions of an important segment of our population. Just the act of reserving February to celebrate one particular ethnic group tells us that we have a long, long way to go before we realize the American ideal of the melting pot.

As with my critique with the “Teaching Tolerance” Campaign (go here), the goal itself of this annual designation trivializes the very thing it seeks to promote. By reserving one month – the shortest one at that – for the recounting of these important stories and events, it allows the vast majority to not have to think about blacks the 11 other months of the year.

It’s very similar to the way most people participate in our political process. For the majority of the year, most people don’t give a hoot about anything political. Accidentally say the word politics at a family gathering or around the office water cooler and most people will immediately change the subject or briskly move away from you.

This all changes come October. Now, all of a sudden, every single conversation is about all things political. People talk and talk and talk. Then they vote. As soon as their votes are cast, they don’t want to hear the word politics again.

Too many people follow this same formula for Black History Month. Before or after February, the accomplishments of blacks just aren’t important – Who cares? Accidentally mention race relations or something of that ilk and nobody wants to talk to you. However, during the wonderful days of February, far too many whites try to absolve their guilt, for the rest of the year, by engaging in a media and corporate orgy celebrating all things black.

The best way I know to recognize and celebrate the accomplishments of our black brothers and sisters is to acknowledge them 365 days per year. Further, such acts should not be viewed solely as black accomplishments but as human ones.

Every month is White History Month – It should be the same for Black History Month too!

1 comment:

  1. A few years back the League of Women Voters of Marion/Polk Counties did a study of discrimination in our area. The study included interviews with about 26 local persons of various ethnic origins. Most of the people were African American. The study was ready for publication when the discussion came up around what to call it. The group talked about whether to call it the “Acceptance Study” or something with tolerance in the title, or maybe even something more descriptive like discrimination in the title. The very points that you made about the difference between tolerance and acceptance were made. To their credit the League titled the report ‘The Acceptance Study: Stories of Discrimination in our Community and What We Can Do About It.’

    Unfortunately, little has been done about it in the past decade. Each year the League along with other civic groups hosts a community gathering called ‘Salem Speaks Up!’ where people from the community can come and share their stories of discrimination. Each year there are over a hundred people who attend the event with stories of how they were treated badly by others and institutions in our community. This year there were even more groups represented than the usual Blacks or Latinos. This year there were Lesbian and Gay people, blind, deaf and handicapped people. There were people from the Philippines and Central America.

    I do not know if we are getting better at drawing more people to the event, or if we are just getting worse as a community in accepting others.

    Susann Kaltwasser


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