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Sunday, February 24, 2013




Ask older African Americans if the contributions of blacks were highlighted in textbooks, school curricula or the nightly news when they were growing up, and the answer you'll likely hear is a resounding no. For centuries, the role that blacks, not to mention Hispanics, Native Americans and Asian Americans, played in shaping American society was left out of history books. To counteract this problem, historian Carter G. Woodson campaigned for what was known in 1926 as Negro History Week. Later, this week morphed into Black History Month, a time for the nation to recognize the major milestones and key figures in African-American history. But in today's society, where blacks are widely represented in U.S. government, popular culture, literature and elsewhere, the need for Black History Month has been called into question. Is Black History Month still relevant, or worse yet, is it racist? The benefits and drawbacks to celebrating black history may be more complex than you think.

The Argument for Black History Month

The United States is now headed by its first president of African descent. Moreover, blacks are widely represented in government, literature, film, athletics and other arenas. Given this, is it still necessary to set aside a month for the express purpose of celebrating the accomplishments of African Americans? Harvard University Professor Henry Louis Gates and writer Raina Kelley have both argued in Newsweek that Black History Month deserves to be celebrated, as it not only connects blacks to the struggles endured by forebears but also addresses the progress still to come in the black community.

"These sorts of gestures are necessary to reclaim the past," Gates explained in Newsweek. "Black History Month has been very effective in resurrecting the stories of our ancestors and in integrating those stories into our history. But we're not even on the horizon of the time to end Black History Month. When as many Americans are as familiar with Harriet Tubman as they are with Paul Revere, then we can talk about ending Black History Month."

Kelley noted that she understands why people, even African Americans, question the need for Black History Month, but stresses that the month can remain significant by highlighting the challenges facing black America at present.

"Rather than wasting time bemoaning the existence of Black History Month, why don't we use it to proselytize for the issues that need to be more fully covered and understood the other 337 days of the year-such as failing inner-city public schools, institutionalized poverty, health-care disparities, and job discrimination?" Kelley asks. "Black History Month is a measure of how fully or accurately our story is being told and a reminder of the work yet to be done."

When President Barack Obama proclaimed February 2010 African American History Month, he echoed some of the sentiments expressed by Kelley and Gates about why such a month should be acknowledged.

"Each February, we recognize African American History Month as a moment to reflect upon how far we have come as a nation, and what challenges remain," he remarked. "…In the volumes of black history, much remains unwritten. Let us add our own chapter, full of progress and ambition, so that our children's children will know that we, too, did our part to erase an unjust past and build a brighter future."
The White House makes the celebration of Black History Month relevant by adopting a different theme for the month each year. For instance, the theme for 2010 is "The History of Black Economic Empowerment." Such a theme encourages Americans to look back at how African Americans became entrepreneurs and skilled workers in spite of virulent racism, while pointing out how blacks can navigate the business and employment sectors today.

In his 2010 proclamation of African American History Month, President Obama pointed out how his administration aims to help blacks, and all Americans, by giving credits to small businesses, slashing tax breaks for companies that outsource work and giving breaks to companies that create jobs domestically.

"We are also reinvesting in our schools and making college more affordable, because a world class education is our country's best road map to prosperity," the President remarked.

If Black History Month is used as a platform to outline strategies to help the black community continue advancing, the 28-day celebration can remain relevant. And if the enormous challenges the black community has already confronted are spotlighted during Black History Month, African Americans may have faith that they can continue making progress. Despite potential benefits such as these, Black History Month continues to have its detractors.

The Argument Against Black History Month

Critics of Black History Month argue that the celebration is shallow, racist and "ghettoizes" black contributions to America in one 28-day period. For instance, Black History Month is a time when children learn about black inventors and pioneers such as Benjamin Banneker, an astronomer; or Madame C.J. Walker, the first self-made female millionaire. While those studying Black History Month are grilled on the names of African American pioneers, they receive little background on the historical context these heroes lived and prospered in despite deep-seated racism. Moreover, students learning about Black History Month may not understand the significance of Dr. Charles Drew reportedly inventing blood plasma. Without proper perspective, a student learning about Black History Month is armed with a list of names and inventions and little else.

Another reason Black History Month has come under fire is because some consider it to be racist. But is it? Perhaps Black History Month would be racist if its aim was to point out that blacks were superior to other groups. However, Black History Month functions to highlight the oft-overlooked accomplishments of African Americans. The reason there's no White History Month is because the accomplishments of whites and their contributions to society are showcased all year long. In short, Black History Month's goal is to raise awareness.

"Thus, it works in exactly the same way as Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October or Gay and Lesbian Pride Month in June," Kelley writes.

Some critics argue that Black History Month isn't racist because it singles out a particular racial group but because it seems to relegate celebration of African Americans to a mere 28 days. While Black History Month founder Carter G. Woodson designated February as a time to honor blacks (the month contains the birthdays of abolitionist Frederick Douglass and former President Abraham Lincoln, who signed the Emancipation Proclamation), he believed that the need to have such a month would one day prove unnecessary. He hoped that African Americans would be so thoroughly integrated into U.S. society that their contributions would no longer require singling out as the years passed.

Academy Award-winning actor Morgan Freeman has taken to task the fact that the U.S. still celebrates Black History Month. In a 2005 "60 Minutes" interview, Freeman called Black History Month ridiculous. "You're going to relegate my history to a month?" he asked. "I don't want a Black History Month. Black history is American history."

Historians such as the late Ronald Takaki and the late Howard Zinn tried to include the history of African Americans and other racial minority groups in their revisionist writings about American history. While the works of Takaki and Zinn are popular, especially in college courses, the standard history books continue to prominently feature whites while relegating racial minorities to the margins. Until the contributions of minority groups are the focal points of history books rather than footnotes, the need for Black History Month, Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, National Hispanic Heritage Month and the like will remain strong.



fighting for the same thing may not necessarily be against the same thing and
everybody against the same thing may not necessarily be for the same

Kwame Ture


A wise man once said, "The enemy deserves no mercy. Mercy is for the weak." Oh wait, no, that wasn't a wise man. That was John Kreese in Karate Kid. The Kreese technique of handling one's enemies was used within the walls of Spartacus' city during tonight's episode of Spartacus: War of the Damned, fittingly titled "Decimation." It was not a good night to be a Roman, I can tell you that my friends. Spoilers if you haven't seen the episode yet!

Who needs a war when there's plenty of in-fighting going on on both sides of this ongoing battle? There were already fractures developing among Spartacus' people even before Caesar managed to nose his way into the city and instigate a much bigger divide. While some people are supportive of Spartacus' fair but costly approach to handling the Roman prisoners, others think it would be much easier to survive the winter if they didn't have all these Romans to feed. I can see the argument to that, considering these rebels are mostly all freed slaves who spent their lives serving Romans against their will. But Spartacus' refusal to lower himself to the Romans' level by slaughtering them is also understandable. Of course, that means having to stuck up on a lot more food and supplies, which is what he spent the bulk of the episode trying to deal with.

When in Rome...


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