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Is Black History Month Doing Us Any Good?

Sunday, February 20, 2011

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Kimberly Seals Allers

Three weeks ago, I started a discussion on my website, Mochamanual.com concerning whether or not Black History Month was still relevant or even necessary today.
 
I was starting to wonder myself.
 
The responses from our mocha (Manual) moms were eye opening. Several moms stated it's not about "them" (the white majority) learning our history, but more about "us" teaching our children our own history. And that as black mothers, we cannot properly prepare our children for the future if they don't know their past.
 
Also, Black History Month gives us a chance to correct the record books and to reflect: Where are we now? Can we do better? they said. And many commenters also feared that, with a black president, we could easily become complacent about how much further we have to go.
 
All good stuff.
 
One week later, I continued this lively dialogue over on Baby Center's blog, Momformation.com, hoping to share this message with a more mainstream audience. Imagine my surprise when things took a shockingly heated and disastrous turn for the worse. Some responses erred on the side of ignorance, while others were just blatantly racist. Some of the many contributors' comments included the following:
 
"I Don't Think We Need It At All… We Have A Black President What More Do You People Need????….. And The Slavery And Black People Issues Are Gone. So NO I Don't Think We Need A "Black History Month!"
 
"I think honestly black people are the ones that separate themselves. I'm not trying to be rude, but most "white" people see black and white people as the same, but black people still think that "white" people see them as maybe inferior or as "them and us," so please get over it, we are all the same."
 
"It seems however that black people don't really want what they are preaching; equality. They still want the segregation and to remind white people of how the past was. Your use of "us" and "them" is why "your" race is holding themselves back. I think the better lesson for all would be: Who really has the problem with racism? … As a white woman, I am saddened that people are still making this a huge issue. It happened, it is over, move on. Make the world better. If the focus and energy used on "race" was applied elsewhere, this world would be amazing!"
 
"It's separatist and serves to create an "us vs. them" atmosphere. If we truly want color to be a "non-issue" why have a BLACK history month? Is there an Asian history month (May)? A WHITE history month (uh, no)? A Native American history month (November)? That get the PR of black history month? Nope."
 
Besides for the fact that I always have to SMH whenever anyone says black people should "get over" slavery, I find it particularly sad that many people don't understand the legacy of slavery. (They also seem to forget that 246 years of slavery was followed by roughly 100 years of Jim Crow laws that lasted until 1965).
 
They don't see how race plays into everything, and I do mean everything from politics to education to health care reform to birth outcomes to cancer survival to maternal mortality rates. All of it has racial undertones. And sometimes overtones. (It's a word to me, :-))
 
They don't see the health disparities, wealth gap, employment gap or education gap as a byproduct of the systemic racism that still exists in this country.
 
They don't see it because they don't live it. Or live near it. In fact, they probably only drive past it. And very quickly with the doors locked.
 
What really saddens me is that this audience is moms. Parents. People responsible for shepherding young lives into the world--filling their brains and shaping their values. People whose children will be sitting in class next to my beautifully brown son and daughter.
 
Even more frightening, these people are policemen, teachers and, God help us, doctors and nurses, charged with our care. And our babies care.
 
Houston, we have a problem.
 
And the problem is a subtle bias lingering in the minds of many Americans.
 
And I'm just not sure if a million Black History Month's can ever fix that.
 
What do you think?