To celebrate, or not to celebrate?
February is supposed to be Black History Month.
I used to get a chuckle out of a joke by comedian Chris Rock who claimed in his ha-ha routine that this convenient designation just happens to be because it’s the shortest month of the year.
Some argue there was noble intent behind an annual designation highlighting and spotlighting African-American history, but why is it singled out in the first place?
There’s a President’s Day – also sandwiched within these 28 days – yet we celebrate our country’s chief executives, in some part, for 365 days of the year: “Where are they spending their Christmas or summer vacation?”, “Who’ll lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on Veteran’s Day?”, “Who’ll be invited to the White House Easter Egg Hunt?” When I view our Commanders in Chief through that lens, the notion that this month, or any other, should be singled out diminishes to being an ideal not worth fostering.
But times have changed; and particularly, we as Americans have changed.
Cynthia Tucker, of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, argues that Black History Month sets the contributions of black Americans aside as separate and unequal. Tucker went on to compare it to apartheid, a form of racial separatism once practiced in the southern part of the African continent.
In her argument for getting rid of the designation, Tucker felt that if African American history were adequately integrated into American history as a whole, we wouldn’t need to set aside a special month to remember it. She thinks if we truly are moving into a post-racist era, Black History Month has served its purpose, and now it starts to feel somewhat passé.
At the same time, there are some strong arguments for the continued observance of February as Black History Month. Mary Mitchell, writing in the Chicago Sun-Times, points out that in many schools, students still learn more about white achievers than they do about black ones. If you stand on that, then can we really say black history is fully absorbed into our school curricula?
I want to make an argument for keeping Black History Month even when its critics feel the subject matter has been fully integrated into our classrooms. America’s race relations in the 21st century is complex and sometimes ugly. For the sake of everyone’s future in this country, black history is a story that has to be given special attention.
When Black History Month ends and March begins, most of us are going back to the same-old, same-old. Advocates then stop and ask did we really learn anything here the past month. That premise raises the argument to not put some sort of ‘time limit’ on learning about each other, regardless of race.
No matter what month it is, we should be studying more about each other so we can grow individually and as a country. Inspiring stories of character and contributions abound all across this nation because character is its own reward, regardless of achievement.
The best thing we all ought to do is to encourage the pursuit of knowledge about each other and practice better race relations all year round.
Maybe nobody ought to be paying lip service a few weeks each year to any one particular group, but why don’t we try honoring everyone the same way all 365 of those days.
People are people, don’t you think?
Gene Motley is a Staff Writer at Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 252-332-7211.