Jim Crow Lives In Black History Month

I don’t know how long this has been going on. It goes back a lot of years, but I don’t ever recall hearing that “February is Black History Month” during my childhood, so it has to be something that’s come along in the past twenty years or so. Maybe I’m wrong. Who cares?

Personally, I don’t celebrate Black History Month. Nor do I celebrate Women’s History Month, GLBT History Month, Hispanic History Month, or any other politically correct concoction that highlights the things that separate us. I don’t celebrate Black History Month because I think that it is an essentially racist proposition.

American history is a fascinating tale, and it encompasses a wide spectrum of stories. From Christopher Columbus to Neil Armstrong, it is a story of discovery. From George Washington to Barack Obama, it is a story of politics. From the Seven Years War to Afghanistan, it is a story of warfare and heroism. From Benjamin Franklin to Bill Gates, it is a story of entrepreneurial spirits and restless invention and innovation. It is a history that should be studied by students and history buffs all across the nation.

Black people are part of this history. A crucial part. Consider these:

  • Crispus Attucks, a runaway slave living as a free man in Massachusetts who was among the first to die in the Boston Massacre of 1770
  • Sojourner Truth, a fierce and tireless anti-slavery voice
  • Harriet Tubman, a leader in the Underground Railroad that so many slaves used to get to freedom
  • Frederick Douglass, who brought the fight against slavery to the upper echelons of government
  • Booker T. Washington, who promoted economic freedom for blacks
  • George Washington Carver, one of America’s greatest inventors
  • W.E.B. DuBois, who fought for equal rights and founded the NAACP
  • Charles Drew, who discovered the process for separating blood from plasma, a discovery that saved untold numbers of lives
  • Thurgood Marshall, the first black appointed to the United States Supreme Court
  • Martin Luther King, who needs no introduction here
  • Colin Powell, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the first black Secretary of State, and still one of the most admired Americans
  • Oprah Winfrey, a poor black girl who turned herself into a one-woman media machine
  • Barack Obama, the first black President

Clearly, as anyone who has read my writings knows, I don’t have much in common with some of the names on this list. But ideological differences are irrelevant here. These people are all valid historical figures for one reason or another. And there are many more I’m not thinking of, I’m sure. Add in some of our greatest athletes and entertainers, economists, sociologists, explorers…well, you get the picture.

The history of blacks in this country, from the days of slavery to the Age of Obama, is completely connected to the larger history of the nation. Setting aside a block of time and saying, “This is the month we dedicate to black history” only serves to break black history apart from American history. It increases the separation between blacks and other groups by turning “black history” into something this is considered “different.” If American history is a richly detailed quilt of stories and possibilities, “Black History Month” is a sock that was sewn from leftover yarn.

The history of blacks in America is part of the American story, sometimes tragic, sometimes uplifting, always compelling. It is not more worthy of study, which seems to be the intention behind Black History Month. Nor is it less worthy of study, which is the result of separating it from the larger canvas of history. Black History month is affirmative action for history; the original intentions behind it may have been well-meaning, but the end result is to validate the impression that many blacks have that they are somehow separate from the rest of the country, and disconnected from the American story.

Let us do away with Black History Month and incorporate those important lessons into the rest of the year as well. Let everyone know that black or white, we are all Americans and our history is shared.

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