Terry Donnelly, Commentary
I wish we could get rid of Black History Month!
Harvard’s Dr. Carter Woodson started the celebration of black Americans in 1926 as Negro History Week. In his studies he found that black people were almost completely ignored in history books and there was little account of their accomplishments anywhere. Woodson and his cohort, Rev. Jesse Moorland chose the second week of February for their celebration to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln (Feb. 12) and Frederick Douglass (actually an unrecorded date sometime in Feb.). The recognition expanded to the entirety of February as Black History Month when President Gerald Ford gaveled it in in 1976. This celebration has led to a greater understanding of the mammoth contributions of black Americans to our culture throughout history. Yet, I cannot wait for the day this celebration can be eliminated.
I’m excited for the demise of Black History Month because that would mean the United States will have overcome its Achilles’ heel of racial divide. The day that we can celebrate the accomplishments of people like famed explorer Matthew Henson with other explorers on their merits without having the adjective “black” attached to the front of his name, or need a special Black History celebration to bring him into the conversation, we’ll know that we are, at long last, a post-racial nation.
Don’t get me wrong. Celebrating Black History Month has contributed a great deal of depth to understanding our country. And, the recognition of individuals and groups who have been responsible for the advancement of the American experiment in personal freedom and self-governing is crucial to making progress. It is intellectually stimulating, academically valuable, and just plain fun to do. We cannot, however, take February out of context and make a case for our country finally being fair and equal because we have a month of recognition. There were rumblings of a post-racial America when Barack Obama won the presidency in 2008, but the vitriol he and his family endured through his eight-year presidency soon dashed any notions of an exceptionally tolerant nation. The years since Obama left office have only heightened tensions due to the reemergence of Nationalism that encourages discrimination and fosters a fear of losing white privilege.
Now would be an excellent time to work on eradicating our national stain of racial division. Not only is it socially an ultimate goal, but also politically. Along with technology developments and the use of cyberspace for virtually all areas of communication and data processing, comes the opportunity for enemies to one-up us with security attacks that threaten our safety and even existence as a country. There’s no need for hyperbole. The facts are clear that our archenemy, Russia, with its amoral oligarch/autocrat, successfully hacked into our business several years ago and are still subtly interfering with our daily lives. Their intent is to take advantage of the divides we have placed upon ourselves and stoke the fires of our intra-hatred and fear of “others” fostered in our own society until they boil over and we self-destruct. Following that disaster, Russia would like nothing better than to inherit our status in the world and take over our economy. This happens, not with guns or nukes, simply a few keystrokes.
We likely cannot stay ahead of those intent on interfering, but we can eliminate the fuel they use to fan the fires. If we can, as a nation, realize we are more alike than different, and that what is different makes us unique and interesting instead of frightening, cyber-attacks attempting to divide so they can conquer can be laughed away. When that day comes, we can relegate Black History Month to the history books as a tool that helped the United States along the path to being a more perfect union.
Until that day, let’s soak up all that Black History month has to offer––learn, create better understanding for ourselves, and encourage others to do the same. For example, Matthew Henson, mentioned above, engaged with Robert Peary on seven voyages deep into the Arctic and is thought by some to be the first to set foot on the North Pole in 1909––interesting. And, this year will mark the 400th anniversary of the first slave ship landing in Jamestown colony––shameful.
This hasn’t been a particularly celebratory column. So, let’s finish joyously by recognizing this February is also the 100th celebration of Jackie Robinson’s birth, and the 110th anniversary of W.E.B. DuBois’s NAACP. Today we can pop corks because Jackie Robinson was the first black American to play major league baseball. Hopefully tomorrow we can honor Jackie as simply one of the finest baseball players ever and a universal inspiration. Today we’re motivated to light candles on a cake because the NAACP was founded, mostly by blacks, as the premier civil rights organization standing up for African American liberties. Hopefully, tomorrow we can fete the NAACP for being the steadfast, honorable, and critical organization that was instrumental in getting the United States to the other side of Martin Luther King’s mountain. That’s Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. the pioneer who gave his life advocating for and helping humanity be better. In a truly post-racial U.S. we can skip the “black” in MLK the black civil rights leader.
Terry Donnelly is a retired teacher. He taught in public schools in Kentucky, Michigan, and Colorado. He was an adjunct faculty member instructing teachers and teacher trainees at Michigan State University, University of Colorado, and Adams State College in Colorado.