Saturday, February 14, 2009
6443: Hey, Let’s Just Entirely Eliminate February.
From The Chicago Tribune…
Is Black History Month already history? Well, it depends
By Clarence Page
Once again it is Black History Month, a time when Americans of all colors increasingly ask, among other questions, whether we need to have Black History Month.
Or maybe we don’t remember well enough to ask. In New York, for example, four years after the state created a commission to promote the teaching of black history in public schools, The New York Times reports that the commission has never met and several positions remain unfilled. Is the commission already history?
Other states like Illinois, Arkansas, Florida, Michigan and Colorado have adopted similar legislation, often by requiring black history be taught with a variety of other ethnic experiences. In fact, that sounds a lot like what black scholar Carter G. Woodson had in mind when he founded “Negro History Week.”
“We should emphasize not Negro History, but the Negro in history,” he said in 1926. “What we need is not a history of selected races or nations, but the history of the world void of national bias, race, hate and religious prejudice.”
If ever there was a month when African-American history was significant, it is this one. Abraham Lincoln—You remember “the Great Emancipator”?—was born 200 years ago on Feb. 12. A hundred years later the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization, was born on Lincoln’s birthday. A century later we have our first biracial president. What a country.
Which raises a question I’ve pondered increasingly in recent years about the NAACP and Black History Month. If they weren’t around, would anyone notice?
A lot of people ask, now that Americans of all colors have put an African-American in the White House, how much more “advancement” do we need?
Long before President Barack Obama came along, the NAACP came to the forefront with hard-won victories of the civil rights movement in the 1960s. A 1908 race riot in Springfield, where seven died, led to the birth of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. A few blocks away was where Obama launched his presidential campaign.
Obama’s campaign sparked an outpouring of heartfelt flag-waving patriotism across color lines unlike any seen since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Appropriately, civil rights leaders like the NAACP’s new president, Benjamin Todd Jealous, are often asked, where does the movement go from here? In interviews, he has pointed to statistics. It is still too easy to find tragically big statistical gaps between blacks and whites in income, prison incarceration, academic achievement and the like.
Yet, since at least the 1980s, color alone has not told the whole story. The gaps between the haves and have-nots in black America have grown larger than the gaps between blacks and whites. Even Obama, for example, has pointed out that it would be unfair to give preference in college admissions to his daughters based on race when they obviously are more advantaged than many white students.
Obama’s hardly the first person to make that modest class-based argument, but it’s hard to think of anyone else who could do it with as much moral authority.
Yet, when I, among others, have made this point to NAACP Chairman Julian Bond and other civil rights leaders, they tend to rebuff the argument, saying their emphasis is on civil rights, not social action. But President Abraham Lincoln offered a valuable lesson here. He defended slavery and white supremacy on several notable occasions early on in his rise, but changed his mind when he received new information, partly with the help of the abolitionist and former slave Frederick Douglass.
As national NAACP leaders ponder their next century, a new generation of local leaders is looking for new ways to close the gaps in parenting, mentoring and other social problems that lawsuits, elections and protest marches can’t solve alone. If they’re successful, maybe then we can look at the NAACP with continued admiration and we won’t have to say that its best days are behind it.