Monday, February 22, 2010

Talk to 'em...

My friend William wrote this in response to this question and comment:

Q: Shoud there be a white history month?
A: yes there should be... i want my fucking white history month... this month is gonna be fucking bullshit in school... slavery this slavery that... slavery's been over for over 140 years move the fuck on... *sigh* and im gonna hear the MLK bullshit every fucking year. i am simply tired of it

As much as statements like this grate on my consciousness, I had to deal with them all through college when addressing issues of diversity on campus, and I imagine statements and questions like this will arise every February from here to eternity in America.

First, statements like this shouldn't anger or surprise those of us who desire to promote multi-ethnic and/or multi-cultural awareness in this country. If anything, statements like those above affirm the need to teach and emphasize the stories of those in American history that have been overlooked, marginalized or trivialized. Statements like the above demonstrate the reality of history as it is taught in America and generally embraced: it is taught as if it is complete, accurate, unbiased, and true; and moreover, what is not included is not significant and/or is unimportant. This perception of American history as traditionally told as being "neutral" or "unbiased" is consistently revealed by those who complain about the viewpoints and emphases expressed regarding America's history during Black History Month, while seeing no problem with the "version" they are used to - the version they wish everyone else would just accept.

Second, statements like these reveal misunderstandings regarding the intent for Black History Week; which was subsequently expanded to Black History Month: that it is period of time to force feed historical information designed to spark feelings of guilt and blame down the throats of white Americans. 1926, Dr. Carter G. Woodson launched Negro History Week as an initiative to bring national attention to the contributions of black people throughout American history, as "history books largely ignored the black American population-and when blacks did figure into the picture, it was generally in ways that reflected the inferior social position they were assigned at the time" (Elissa Haney). Additionally, the psychological and emotional need for this cannot be ignored, as the benefit of being able to access information that affirms you as a human being cannot be overvalued versus a "story" that either through omission or distortion does nothing but reinforce ideas of inferiority that would then justify racism toward blacks/African-Americans.

Third, there is a truth to those statements that those who embrace the cause of promoting awareness must accept. With the adoption of Black History Month as a "national affair," some will feel it is forced upon them; but even with that, an opportunity to educate exists. It is important that the month does not simply focus on the stories that are typically repeated and of which people tire. Doing that is in itself, a disservice to Black History as it relegates it to only a few contributions and does not reflect the breadth and depth of Black/African American contributions. At the same time, however, the difficult of issues of slavery, etc., should not be glossed over because they are a scar on the American consciousness. If anything, that's the reason that they should be taught; as they are a contradiction to the American Ideals that are espoused and celebrated, and a reminder how we must judge our nation by its own doctrines and ideals as celebrated in our most prized documents -- The Declaration of Independence, The Preamble to the Constitution, The Constitution, The Bill of Rights, etc.

Any actions instituted by and/or tolerated by our government and society that contradict these ideals should be met with disdain not only by the victims, but by all Americans as it's an affront to us all. Any histories or information that remind us how fragile America's ideals are should be embraced and used to encourage us to never stop the fight to see that America's ideals are realized. We cannot be so naive to believe otherwise. We must then examine our then examine the realities of living in America through the stories, past and present, of ALL of its citizens and American "history" should reflect that diversity. People should know that Japanese were placed in internment camps here in America and the multitude of other examples of America not fulfilling its ideals, and then challenge our leaders to make sure that these are not repeated, and that we continue moving our country closer to fulfilling its ideals.

Many apologies for jumping on my soap box. With all the above said, I look forward to celebrating this time with you, and appreciate all those who have shared. A couple of quotes to end this post:

What passes for identity in America is a series of myths about one's heroic ancestors. -James Baldwin

American history is longer, larger, more various, more beautiful, and more terrible than anything anyone has ever said about it. -James Baldwin

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