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[Ben]:Black history month Discuss This [3 comments so far] View Comments
February is Black History Month.

So what?

Black History Month always makes me shake my head in wonder. It is hard to turn on the TV in February without seeing a public service announcement reminding us all that February is Black History Month. But what is it all about? Why all the media attention? What makes Black History Month worthy of the unique attention it receives?

First I'd like you to do something for me. Open another browser window with your favorite search engine, or type the following phrase in the Google search bar above: Black History Month

Now go to a random page that looks like it has some information on black history. Go ahead, I'll wait. Come back when you're done.

*whistles*

Okay, you're back? I'll tell you what you most likely saw:
Hooray for Black History Month!
Black History starts in the late 1800s [...] yadda yadda yadda [...] Civil War [...] yadda yadda yadda [...] Martin Luther King [...] yadda yadda yadda [...] Kwanza [...] yadda yadda yadda [...] Civil rights movement [...] yadda yadda yadda [...]

Was that about right? Nothing wrong with that, mind you, but is it Black History? If you were going to study and celebrate Japanese History, where would you start?
Would you start with the US internment camps of WWII and the mistreatment people with Japanese heritage during that time?
Would you start with the period around 1853 when Commodore Matthew C. Perry opened Japan up as a supply base for the US commercial fleet?
Certainly not! You would probably go back to at least 300AD and study the history of tribal relations, internal and external disputes, the birth of Imperial structure, artwork, unification, fragmentation, reunification, law, religious observances and prohibitions and much, much more. Japanese history is just an example. You could insert any major ethnic, religious or regional group you want and come to the same conclusion: History starts before 1860.

Indeed, "black" history starts well before 1860. It starts well before western slavery, for that matter. This is not for lack of documented African history as one might first think. The problem, I believe, lies in the fact that attempting to consolidate history based on a skin color is impossible. If we were going to study white history, which of the hundreds of groups with pale skin would we study? How could we consolidate the history of dozens of nations, or historically thousands of tribes but separate it from the history of anyone with darker skin? How much harder, then, would it be to consolidate the various minor and major tribes and nations of anyone with a particular skin color into a single subheading of "Black History"?

There is no cohesive "black history" any more than there is a cohesive "white history". History involves all races. Skin-color based history doesn't allow you even as much resolution as national history or tribal history, or even regional history. Moreover, you are forced to draw a line. Do you include Australian natives? They are certainly "black", but when was the last time you heard them discussed in an article referring to black history month?

So Black History Month doesn't really focus on black history. In truth, it focuses on the black civil rights movement in America, which is fine (except for the misleading name) but ignores the plights of the Irish, the Chinese and the Japanese, just to name a few other groups that faced and overcame serious racial discrimination in the United States.

Thus, I propose renaming Black History Month to Black Civil Rights Month and adding several different months to be fair. Chinese Civil Rights Month, for one. Maybe Amtrack could run special discounts or something. We'd need an Irish Civil Rights Month, and a Female Civil Rights Month ... by the end of things, we'd probably end up with more designated months than we have in a year.

But I want to save two special months - September and December - for American Civil Rights Months. If Americans of African heritage can claim a month to study and celebrate the history of their ancestors' fight to claim civil rights, why should the passage and ratification of the Bill of Rights go unnoticed?

Heinlein once said, "[P]eople who boast of ancestry often have little else to sustain them." This piece is certainly not in the spirit of that quote which concludes that one should humor people such as that simply to add to the happiness in the world, but "Hooray for Black History Month" doesn't make for a very interesting (or honest) article.

Black History Month did have one good aspect this year. In my research, I found this great essay on the racist roots of gun control. Sweet.
  2006-02-18
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