copyright © 2009 Betsy L. Angert. BeThink.org
The history of Black Americans is a glorious one. It is a chronicle filled with much triumph, as well as many trials and tribulations. Yet, many debate whether a month that commemorates people, pitch in color, defies reason. Do the days dedicated to the acknowledgement of African American achievements divide us as a nation? The answer, some say is a complex one. Consider the thoughts of Columnist, Clarence Page of The Chicago Tribune. Is Black History Month already history? Well, it depends. Another view comes from a fellow Journalist and contributor to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Cynthia Tucker. She is more emphatic in her evaluation. Ms Tucker writes; Month robs blacks of part in U.S. history. It seems the subject, Black History Month, segregates opinions.
The theme divides people just as the annals of an analogous tale do. Yet, perhaps, before Black History Month becomes but a memory we must reflect on a reality too painful to ignore.
A newborn was brought to his adopted parents who, while well educated, seemingly ethical, and definitely well-established in the community were cruel to the infant. The proud father and mother were happy to take the neonate in. “Dad” and “Mom” were fine folks. Each spoke eloquently. They wrote wondrous words such as “all men are created equal.” Yet, in the New World they acted as barbarians would. All that they said they thought sacred was negated. The patriarch brutally beat the baby. He may not have physically laid a hand on the toddler. Nonetheless, he had overseers do the dirty deeds. The matriarch, while outwardly sweeter, swiped at the “boy” whenever he was near. The man who acted as a father, and his spouse, did all they could to ensure the tot remain enslaved.
The head of the family provided no books for the little tyke. His wife did not discuss deeper issues with the child. Ignorance would surely suppress desires for advancement. If nothing else, a lad, without formal erudition, would not believe, he could succeed. Surely, a child who had not learned to express himself well or to imagine would not wander far. It would be best, the couple conceded, if the Black baby did not have the means to survive without assistance from the Lord and Lady of the land.
As much as the couple worked to keep the dark-skinned “boy” in his place, the curious lad proved to be creative. He invented. He was innovative. At times, he achieved beyond expectations. Still, the youngster, the adolescent he grew to be, and the adult man, pitch in hue, was not rewarded for his achievements. Traditionally, his caregivers took credit for his achievements. The pinker persons who housed him, confined the Black man to a symbolic cage, a field of cotton, a city slum, or a prison, far from civilized society.
The ebony man escaped when he could. He sought an education. He excelled when given a semblance of equal opportunities. However, even in good times, someone, somewhere sought to subjugate him. Away from his parents’ home, from father and mother’s persistent grip, the Black man remained subordinate. What he did well, he had to be better than his white counterparts. For Caucasians, it seemed impossible to separate him from his color.
Given an inch, an inspired “Negro” would take a mile, a week, or a month, his parents once mused. Indeed, children of color did. In 1926, Historian, Carter G. Woodson, a man born to former slaves, went on to earn a doctorate degree from Harvard and invite Americans to adopt Negro History Week. In 2009, with the first African-American President of the United States in the White House, countless citizens conclude, Black History Month is already history.
Today, Americans are told the narrative is no longer relevant. Accounts of African ancestors “robs” purplish-brown persons of the prominent role they played in the United States. Journalist Cynthia Tucker writes, “The commemoration is a damaging form of apartheid, setting the contributions of black Americans aside as separate and unequal.”
Commentator, John Ridley disagrees. He opines, and offers, Yes, We Still Need Black History Month. He believes the legends must be shared. Mister Ridley fears the anecdotes will be forgotten. Most, he observes, are yet to be told, or taught in school. Society remains segregated when the subject is race relations, or Black History Month.
Perchance that is why people in this country are, as the first African-American Secretary of State says the actions of pale skinned Americans are, “polite, restrained” when the races mix or muse over their shared history. The story of what was, and was not, in a country founded on freedom for all, is a sensitive topic, When broached, anger boils over. Excuses are made, or the embarrassed blame the Black man or woman for overreacting.
On February 18, 2009, Artist, Sean Delonas. appeared in the New York Post, The Artist once nicknamed the Picasso of prejudice, castigated the Commander-In-Chief, the first American charcoal in color to occupy the Oval Office,
Mister Delonas penned a political cartoon many thought racist. In the image, a chimpanzee lay dead in the grass. Blood streams from the two bullet holes in the primate’s chest. Police shooters, gun in hand, look at the slain beast and state; “They’ll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill.” While some would wish to say the toon is but an innocent commentary, readers cannot negate an historic association. Anglos have long referred to Black brethren as apes. An African-American, even a President, the author of the financial package, is not exempt from scorn.
Perhaps, in a cynical way, this is the proof those who prefer we not observe Black History Month seek. In America, all men are created equal. Any American might receive praise or punishment. Surely, a defiant The New York Post Editor, Col Allen would concur.
Upon receipt of reprimands for the pictorial essay, newspaper executive Allen issued a statement in defense of the stimulus/chimp cartoon. He said the caricature was but a parody of current events. An actual chimp shot down in Connecticut was coupled with acts of Congress, or at least that is what the Post hoped people would believe.
However, many Americans remember their history. In the year 2000, long after the adoption of Black History Month, Doctor Marcus Neiman, Chairman Emeritus of Creation Anthropology at Landover Baptist University, published what was characterized as “his important findings.”
In an article entitled “It Took A True Christian To Find The Missing Link,” the esteemed scholar stated; “God created human beings separate from primates. There are different kinds of hominids, just like there are different kinds of mustard. There are small primates called chimpanzees. They are the cute little fellows who live in trees, like the one in that movie our greatest President, Ronald Reagan, starred in — “Bedtime for Bonzo.” . . . There are large primates that live on the jungle floor and scare missionaries, who, being Christians, are armed against them. They are called gorillas. There are even primates that play basketball, rob liquor stores, organize marches and make some attempt at imitating human speech. They are called Negroes. Regrettably, if there is such a thing a “natural selection,” most of them have selected to be naturally lazy. They are living examples of the Lord’s unfinished business because these more primitive hominids are still evolving.”
Granted, those who think there is no need to teach Black History might argue there are infinite illustrations that counter a single comic strip or an eccentric scientist. The little Black lad of yore lives no more in modern American history.
African-Americans have arrived. Barack Obama is our President, elected by the people, Black and white. Michelle Obama, America’s First Lady, an African-American scholar in her own right, by her very presence teaches Black History literally and figuratively.
Oprah Winfrey is among the wealthiest women in the world. The entertainer’s entrepreneurial story is a “phenomenon, a modern-day Horatio Alger, up from roots in poorest America.” Tiger Woods is highly successful. Perhaps, these accomplished individuals demonstrate “race no longer defines us,” or as Eric Holder so aptly stated, what “now passes as meaningful interaction . . . in reality accomplishes very little.” Surely, we are separate and unequal when we pretend that our past does not still define us, or that there is no reason to discuss the differences that continue to divide us.
Rather than rant or rage, Black History month is no longer relevant, as a nation we might realize as our Attorney General offered, “This nation has still not come to grips with its racial past.” (What) will be, at first, a process that is both awkward and painful,” will reap rewards.
What we may learn when we honor Black History, will be “potentially great,” As Eric Holder espoused on the same day the controversial Delonas cartoon appeared. The subject of segregation need not divide us. When we acknowledge a problem, we can begin to solve it.
Those who think there is no need to actively honor African-American history might wish to ponder the prominence of African-Americans who are unfamiliar to most. Might those whose names we do not know from the past, and in the present, be representative of the young Black “boy” whose parents protected him, punished him, and did not honor him, or acknowledge his accomplishments?
Please ponder the draftsman, engineer, and inventor, Lewis Howard Latimer who worked as the original draftsman for Thomas Edison. Scientist Latimer invented an electric lamp with an inexpensive carbon filament and a threaded wooden socket for light bulbs. He also helped advance our current conversation, when he drafted the patent drawings for Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone. Yet, American’s, for the most part do not memorialize the man who allowed us to chat more freely. Black Americans’ History, a month of homage? Let us talk.
Might many have thought purplish-brown Americans arrived in 1941? When the United States went to war, Doctor Charles Richard Drew was named Director of the Blood Bank for the National Research Council. His expertise, allowed America to collect blood for the American Armed Forces. The groundwork for the American Red Cross, blood collection, and procedures that allow for the storage of plasma are attributed to this African-American. Yet, few know his name.
White patriarchs were, and are, perhaps more prominent in the minds of many who have forgotten the tale of the young lad and his adopted parents. In America, absentmindedness for a prideful past affects our present.
The African-American man or woman who sits beside his Anglo brethren is not segregated by homage to history. A lack of awareness, acceptance, and praise for a people divides America.
Perhaps the question Americans might ask is not whether to set aside days to discuss the trials and tribulations of Black people. The query, instead, might be, is colormuteness characteristic in a country segregated, not by Black History Month, but by the actions of man. Could it be that citizens wish to claim American culture is a colorblind. In a nation where racism remains rampant, albeit politely restrained, and better hidden, would Americans rather not remember the glorious history of Black brothers and sisters?
Certainly, a commemoration of feats and foibles, trials, and tribulations will not divide the country as much as ignorance of our past and present does.
References for race relations, and a reality too long restrained . . .
- A History Lesson in the East Room, By Rachel L. Swarms. The New York Times. February 18, 2009
- Learning to treat Negroes like human beings. The Landover Baptist Website. July 2000
- Delonas for Wednesday February 18, 2009. New York Post. February 18, 2009
- U.S. Is a ‘Nation of Cowards’ on Race, Says Holder, By Bernie Becker. The New York Times. February 18, 2009
- Month robs blacks of part in U.S. history, By Cynthia Tucker. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Sunday, February 08, 2009
- Yes, We Still Need Black History Month, By John Ridley. Morning Edition. February 17, 2009
- Is Black History Month already history? Well, it depends, By Clarence Page. Chicago Tribune. February 15, 2008
- Oprah is course focus and jumping off point for study of race issues. By Andrea Lynn. University of Illinois. February 1, 2001
- cablinasian like me, By Gary Kamiya. Salon. April 199
- New York Post Chimp Cartoon Compares Stimulus Author To Dead Primate, By Same Stein. Huffington Post. February 18, 2009
- Unbound: Profiles in Black History. Charles Drew. 1904-1950