Black History Month celebrates social progress

Jessica Sattler

There is no White History Month and there never should be. Dedicating certain months to celebrate the historic figures and events of minorities does not reinforce racism.

In 1776, Thomas Jefferson first penned the phrase “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal” in the Declaration of Independence, setting down the principles that would guide the newly born American nation.

Martin Luther King Jr. echoed these words, the creed of the United States, in his famous “I Have a Dream” speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963, 100 years after Abraham Lincoln himself spoke the same words in his Gettysburg Address.

Black History Month was created to acknowledge and bring awareness to the importance of Black Americans in our country’s history, emphasize contributions to our society today and recognize the struggles of the black people – even the establishment of the month was a hard-fought battle of black activists against the United States government.

Black History Month serves as a vessel through which we can both reflect back upon our nation’s dark history and recognize how far we’ve come in terms of racial equality.

White Americans have never faced the struggles of discrimination and racial violence of minority groups such as blacks, Hispanics and Asians. There is little in white history that can even remotely relate to the problems racial minorities face in America and other predominantly-white countries every day, and absolutely nothing in white history can compare with the many years of slavery and oppression of the black race in America.

However far we have come as a nation, there is still a long road ahead of us and ignoring the problem of racism will not make it go away. To tell a person of color that you are “colorblind” or that you “don’t see race” is to say you refuse to acknowledge a people’s cultural identity and ignore the repression of those people.

“Colorblindness” is inherently problematic and merely another form of racism designed to strip the identity of our fellow Americans. Clearly, this is not the solution. As Carter G. Woodson, the father of Black History Month, said “If a race has no history, if it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world and it stands in danger of being exterminated.”

The only way to combat racism in the United States is to learn from our past mistakes. Black History Month brings this history to the forefront of national attention, forcing the white majority of our country to acknowledge the racial issues of our past and the issues that we still face today. Americans have to recognize our differences in cultural background and histories and work with them, not against them.

Black history is American history. This nation was built from the backs of immigrants, whether in the form of slaves or indentured workers. However irksome this thought may be, especially to those white Americans who feel guilty of the crimes of their ancestors, Americans must realize that discrimination still happens every day in this country and casual disregard will not solve these problems.

Black History Month is here not only as a time of reflection but of action. Ignoring slavery did not free an entire race from incarceration. Ignoring inequalities did not win the fight for civil rights. Ignoring racism will not make it go away.