Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Black History Month

Black history month:  when we celebrate the history of a people grouped not by the content of their character, but by the color of their skin. 

I really don't understand black history month.  If we are talking about the history of people with high melanin content, shouldn't we be celebrating the history of people dating back to the dawn of man in Africa?  If we are talking about Black American history, we should properly confine the dates to 1776-present, as prior to 1776, this wasn't a country, it was a collection of colonies, owned by the British, French, Dutch, Spanish, etc.

In either case, we identify a group of people to celebrate based upon the color of their skin--how is that tolerable?  I'm all for cultural diversity, accepting that people come from different backgrounds and cultures and each has its own unique characteristics and contributions to our modern society... I just don't like the idea of having special months/weeks/days whatever for them, unless, in the interests of diversity, and not holding any one culture above another, we have equal time for all cultures, which we don't.  This country was built (after it became a country) by successive waves of immigrants, mostly of Irish, Italian, German, Slavic, and Polish descent, and yet where is the "Polish American History Month?"  Sure, the Irish get St. Patrick's day, where we drink ourselves into oblivion and eat corned beef and cabbage.  And there's Columbus day, celebrated by alternating parades and protests and a trip to Olive Garden, where we eat spaghetti and drink ourselves to oblivion, and Octoberfest, where we drink ourselves into oblivion and eat sausages, and the Quatro, Sinco, and Sixtho of Mayo, where we eat taco and drink ourselves into oblivion, but we don't celebrate months for skin color in the same manner as we do Black History Month. 

There is, of course "Asian History Month," "Pacific Islander Month," Native American History Weekend" and special group recognition ad infinitum, but why do we not call it "Yellow People Month" or "Tan People Month" or "Not everyone from Mexico is of Spanish Descent Month" (to relieve confusion from "the other tan people month")?

Some argue that Black History Month celbrates all of African-American history.  Great--but why not just call it American History month, and celebrate the history of our nation--and all people who contributed to building it, without regard to color or ethnicity?  Others bring in the topic of slavery.  In the case of slavery, one could argue that as a nation, we only had the institution of slavery for 90 years... tossing out the status quo that had existed in the colonies of other nations for almost four centuries.  Others point to the civil rights movement as the focus for black history month... which completely discounts the efforts of the many thousands of people who pushed for recognition of content of character over color of skin, and who were in fact not Black.

So how do you recognize the achievements of a race, without racism?  I don't think you can, very well, because it will always appear that you are ignoring some set or subset of a society.  Instead, wouldn't it be better to recognize the achievements of people without regard, or even mention of their race?  You could easily tell somone of the tremendous achievements of George Washington Carver, and they would be suitably impressed, even if you made no mention of race.  In fact, is it not racist to say "Hey, look at what this guy did, isn't that great?  Oh yeah, he was black, too!"  Like the color of his skin should have been an indicator of his inability to do something, and he overcame the hurdle of his skin color to accomplish it.  "Even though he was black, he made transistor radios from peanuts!"

I'm not discounting that racism has played a part in our history--and still does in our society.  Maybe racism, in all its forms, needs a history month in and of itself, so that various forms of it can be exposed to that wonderous disinfectant: sunlight.  Of course, wanting to be as diverse as possible, I will posit that racism as a belief system is just as valid and acceptable as any other, except for the Amish and Wiccans.  I submit, along those lines, that racism as a belief system is not necessarily wrong.  It is not just, but justice and rightness are not always the same thing, either.  Calling one belief system wrong places other belief systems above that belief system, and is the antithesis of diversity.

So I don't get the elevation of a part of our society, even for a month, for the recognition of that part's history.  It seems like the antithesis of the great melting pot that we are supposed to be:  Unhyphenated Americans.


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