Black History Month still serves purposeI was thinking about Black History Month a few days ago, as I considered paying a visit to a scheduled celebration of the event on the campus of
By: John Crisp, The Dickinson Press
I was thinking about Black History Month a few days ago, as I considered paying a visit to a scheduled celebration of the event on the campus of the college where I work. Some of my black colleagues had chosen Abraham Lincoln’s birthday to commemorate the long African-American legacy in our country.
Not everyone believes that this is a good idea. If you search for “Black History Month” on YouTube, the first video that pops up features an articulate but somewhat snide white kid who thinks it’s time to put an end to the designation. He insists that he’s not racist, and if you think otherwise, he says, you’re uncivilized and unintelligent. You should exit the video, take a “cold shower” and not come back. His 1:41 of fame is short on logic and reasoning: mostly he insists that having a Black History Month is “stupid.”
He’s not the only one who disapproves. Recently, an Associated Press article asked whether it’s time for Black History Month itself to fade into history. The election of Barack Obama to the presidency means, according to a lawyer named Stephen Donovan, that “African-American history is American history,” and should be remembered year-round.
In fact, Donovan, citing no evidence or credentials, asserts that ending “paternalistic” observances like Black History Month would actually reduce racism and, paradoxically, make whites more willing to celebrate racial differences.
Perhaps. But I’m hesitant to pop the champagne prematurely on the inauguration of the post-racial era. In fact, as I was thinking about all this, a reader e-mailed this “joke”: “I just heard that Obama is going to impose a 40 percent tax on aspirin because ... it’s white and it works.” Amusing. I wonder if this writer would be willing to stack his work ethic up against Obama’s.
This sort of simpleminded, racist humor proliferates on the Internet and, in fact, this is one of its tamer renditions. You don’t have to look hard to find repugnant usages of the N-word and references to lynchings and spear-chucking. When these bloggers get around to the subject of Black History Month, smugness emerges, and they want to know why we don’t have White History Month. Or why they never got money for college from the United White Folks College Fund.
Unfortunately, these aggrieved bloggers, uniformly anonymous, find a center of gravity in more organized groups like Stormfront and League of the South, white nationalist associations, some of which are quite serious about actually seceding from the Union. In fact, they’ve already created their own version of White History that reflects a deeply revisionist perspective on slavery and that puts Marx, Hitler and Lincoln into the same vile category.
These groups are at the margins, but their sense of victimization by the progress of civil rights and affirmative action extends significantly into our society. Have you ever heard an otherwise enlightened acquaintance muse, only half-facetiously, about starting a chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of White People?
It’s too soon to call the game on race in our country. But I’d rather not think of Black History Month strictly as an antidote for our persistent racial malady. I can’t speak for others, but the modest celebration of Black History Month that I attended on my campus was truly celebratory, with no hint of grievance or complaint.
Three hundred years of slavery and Jim Crow are only part of the black legacy in America. Blacks have had a powerful and positive impact on our culture disproportionate to their percentage of the population. In fact, it’s hard to imagine modern America without them. And that’s something worth noting with special attention every February.
— Crisp teaches in the English Department at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi, Texas.