Thursday, February 08, 2007

I’ll Take Black History Month For $1000, Alex.

February is the shortest month of the year. Just twenty-eight days during the winter solstice when the nights are still longer than the days, when the winds blow, snow falls and we endure some of the coldest times of the season. It is also the month when we celebrate our Presidents and note the birthdays of two: Mr. Washington and Mr. Lincoln. One owned slaves; the other freed them.

This is also the month we designate as Black History Month in our schools (and in television commercials), expanded during my time on this earth from Black History Day to Black History Week to Black History Month. Just twenty-eight short days during which we acknowledge the contributions and accomplishments, ancient, past, current and future of some 34 million Americans and their ancestors.

Now some people are bent out of shape because others would deign to acknowledge that not every accomplishment, historical feat, act of bravery or selflessness, intellectual achievement, demonstration of musical or mathematical or medical genius, artistic expression, comes attached to a Caucasian face. They whine “Why do Black folks – African-Americans, Afro-Americans, Negroes, N-words, Colored people or ‘them’ or ‘they’ – have to have a whole month (week, day) where we have to learn, talk about – even listen to – anything about them? Why are they never satisfied? What’s the point?”

The point is that without those heads, hands, hearts, brains, brawn and backs, you would not be here today.

Other people treat these short days as a marathon trivia game: Who was the first to do this, or the only to do that? Even at this past weekend’s Super Bowl, the underlying theme was the first two Black coaches to reach the ultimate game. The unspoken message seems to be: “Now that we’ve crossed that hurdle, we can get back to business as usual. ‘They’ should be satisfied for a while.”

If we learned the whole history of this nation, and not the Readers’ Digest condensed version, this type of special recognition of our citizens wouldn’t be necessary. Not for Black Americans, not for Asian Americans, not for Native Americans, not for Hispanic or Latino\a Americans. But we serve up a kind of “whitewashed” history that leaves out significant chunks of data. Black History Month is a small attempt at setting the record straight.

Black History Month is more than just a stream of endless trivia. And frankly, lately, some of what passes for “history” is indeed far from it. If these twenty-eight days are going to mean anything to anybody, it’s time we focus on the whole history of a people who have contributed mightily to building, defending, educating and enhancing America. It is a history that doesn’t start with Washington and slavery nor end with Lincoln and “freedom,” that doesn’t start with Rosa Parks on a bus and end with Dr. King in D.C., that doesn’t start with New Orleans jazz or end with Katrina. And it certainly doesn’t start on February 1 and end on February 28.

The Rational Inquirer