Black History Month Guest Author – Greg Davis
The notion of a FILL-IN-THE-BLANK Month has always seemed to me to be an anachronism, if not borne of downright condescension. After all, in this day and age who would dare argue, other than a racist or sexist person, that a particular ethnic group or gender (read women) has not significantly contributed to American society? Even if the historical contributions of said group are not comparable to those of American White males, isn’t it self-evident that this is a result of discrimination? To argue otherwise would invite unwelcome and unfounded thoughts of racial and/or gender superiority. So why do we need a month dedicated to the obvious? Is it because, as Attorney General Eric Holder suggests, we are “moral cowards.”
Do we seek to satisfy ourselves with ceremonial platitudes?
The answer is not so apparent. In 1926, Harvard-educated Black historian Carter G. Woodson and his Association for the Study of Negro Life and History established “Negro History and Literature Week.” It’s purpose was to document the contributions of African people. Additionally the study was to demonstrate that the achievements of the Black race were inferior to none. This type of undertaking continues today in such remarkable exhibits as the “African-American Imprint,” currently showing in Philadelphia. No one can argue that such on-going efforts to educate Americans about our history are a bad thing. This is particularly true since we are so poor at doing it. And now, of course, Black History Week has become Black History Month. A month full of events increasingly dedicated to celebrating Black culture in all its forms rather than actually teaching anything useful about it.
Aside from the fact that the emphasis of Black History Month has shifted from education to cultural celebration, it strikes me that these efforts may be largely for naught. For no one has adequately addressed the elephant in the room: why haven’t Black Americans achieved the same type of progress that other minorities have? Perhaps, Arturo Schomburg provides a hint to the answer.
First, let us understand where Schomburg was coming from. He was born in 1874 to an unwed freeborn mulatta, Maria Josepha, in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and raised in Puerto Rico by his mother’s family. Schomburg moved to “El Barrio” the Puerto Rican and Cuban community in New York when he was seventeen. Schomburg was told that “the Negro” had no history, which inspired him to document the achievements of Black people. Schomburg’s collection is now and housed in a Harlem branch of the NY public library that is named after him.
In 1925, Schomburg wrote “History must restore what slavery took away, for it is the social damage of slavery that the present generations must repair and offset.”
Contrary to those who would love to believe otherwise, the insidious historical effects of slavery remain. Statistical measures abound as to the relative lack of progress made by Black Americans as a group in education, income and employment. Even when income is isolated as a factor, Blacks appear to lag behind other minorities in various measures of achievement. Despite vast amounts of study devoted to this phenomenon, social scientists have a hard time accounting for such entrenched differences.
I think Americans simply do not understand how the various degradations of slavery manifest themselves through generations. It is a Second Sin that just won’t go away.
Bill Cosby tried to steer the conversation towards embracing parental responsibility and was pilloried by many facets of the Black community for blaming the victim. There are understandable reasons for such an uproar, reasons that are not present in the historical legacy of other oppressed groups. They were not brought to this country against their will and enslaved in chains. By definition, Black Americans have a very different legacy; borne of home-grown, old-fashioned American racial and economic exploitation, brutal in terms both physical and psychological. An ugly shared legacy, full of horror, if truth be told. One that resulted in a civil war that killed more Americans than all our other wars combined. Until we fully grasp the profound implications of that piece of history, there is little hope for solving “the race problem,” Barack Obama notwithstanding. For the problem now does not lie without but mostly within.
Eric Holder had it completely wrong. We are not moral cowards.
Instead, Holder demonstrates that we remain stunningly inept at publicly discussing the implications of America’s Second Sin. On such issues, the perceptions of Blacks and Whites remain as wide apart as the walls of the Grand Canyon. At some level we may have come to the realization that we simply cannot solve what we don’t understand.
In conclusion, Black History Month celebrations cannot be expected to bridge this chasm of ignorance. However, some frame of reference is better than none at all.
What are your thoughts about Black History Month?
Originally posted 2017-02-08 07:56:35. Republished by Blog Post Promoter