Monday, February 27, 2012
Are We There Yet?
Imagine you are in a class of kids, and one of your classmates was ignored for her/his contributions to the class. Worse than that, the student was mistreated, abused, and eventually lost his/her life due to the mistreatment. The school then decided to make a day during the year where everyone would stop to remember not only the victim and her/his accomplishments, but the circumstances surrounding the bullying and abuse so that we would learn to not repeat it and how to recognize it if we saw it happening somewhere else.
The first few years of the observance, people seemed reverant and really appreciated the significance of the memorial. However, time passed by. Minor bullying incidents may have occurred, but nothing like what we witnessed happening to that old student. We felt we had made progress as a class, and then one day someone says it, "Why do we need that student's memorial day? Haven't we progressed as a class? Aren't we older and wiser? No disrespect, but doesn't this day separate us more than unite us?" This is a metaphor for how people feel about Black History Month.
I was recently asked, "Do you think we still need Black History Month?" That's a trick question of course. So I will give you a trick answer. No we shouldn't need it, but Yes we do.
First let's deal with the "No we shouldn't need it."
Let's not forget these facts: Black History WEEK began in 1926 and the founder's intention was for it to END when Black History became a represented part of American History. Like most good ideas, it had good intentions and caused excitement among its supporters. The week in February was chosen because of the coinciding birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. 50 years later, America celebrated its bicentennial and President Ford approved making it officially an entire month. Britain and Canada began to recognize the month as well and here we are today, 86 years later, still "celebrating" . . .
Are you celebrating?
So what went wrong?
Isn't 86 years enough time for us to get our acts together and infuse textbooks with the appropriate facts and bios of prominent African-Americans? Isn't 86 years enough time for schools from Kindergarten to University to effectively educate 4 generations of students about the history of Blacks in America and the holocaust of slavery in our country? The answer is YES! And no, we shouldn't in truth NEED this holiday . . .
If the founder Carter Woodson meant for the holiday to be eliminated after the error had been corrected, why IS it still a separate celebration from the rest of American history? Why DID they make it a month? Well, think about it. In 1976, Black History MONTH remained separate from education because up until only a few years earlier, Blacks themselves were kept separate from society. After multiple assasinations (Medgar Evars, MLK, Malcolm X, JFK, RFK), the wounds of racial division were (and for some - are) still fresh. Commemorating this attention to the obvious lack of reverence for Blacks being regarded as a part of society seemed like a golden opportunity to heal those wounds. And though in these last 36 years, there has been more integration, there are racial/socio-economic issues that divide this country. And just like a lot of things America does when it comes to race - we got sloppy.
Now let's deal with the "Yes we need it".
Let's not forget these facts: The average student - black, white, or purple - doesn't know more than one historical Black figure - MLK - and that's largely due to the Federal recognition of his birthday. The media, both mainstream and non, often portrays African Americans in such a negative light that they continue to be the bottom of the social totem pole. Even Black-owned entertainment (i.e. BET) is nothing more than a hot mess of garbage - music videos, televangelists, reality shows, etc. - so depressing, most Black family and friends I know can't bear to watch. If you want to study Black History, you could take a class at some universities as a specialized course, but unfortunately by that time, your key, impressionable education years have passed. African-American Studies programs in universities are small and continue to only serve a small percentage of students.
The truth is - we failed. Carter Woodson, President Ford, and everyone else before us told us to TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THIS OPPORTUNITY TO TEACH AND LEARN, and we did not. We said, "Hey - they've got a whole month now and a half-black president. What more could they ask for? Haven't we progressed as a society? Doesn't this month separate us more than unite us?" Watch this video and receive a partial answer to that question.
I could write 3 blogs about what's wrong with this video, but it's obvious.
In the meantime, I need to keep fighting the good fight. Spread the word in every medium available to me. Teach my daughter who Charles Drew, Benjamin Banneker, Crispus Attucks, Mary Mcleod Bethune, Marcus Garvey, Ben Carson, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, George Washington Carver, Malcom Little, Thurgood Marshall, Paul Robeson, Marian Anderson, and Langston Hughes are. But my daughter is only one child. Are other families to blame for the gap in education? How can they teach their kids what they themselves don't even know? No, this looks like a job for higher learning.
As this Black History Month comes to an end, we are faced with the familiar question: Should we do away with the recognition of Black History Month?
Sure. As soon as schools and educators get their act together for the rest of the children and give us a reason to. Let's not take another 86 years.