Ignorance binds Americans

Lee McClelland

In the past weeks, there seems to be a question of whether or not Black History Month is a reputable holiday or one based on separatist ideals of recognizing African American accomplishments in American history.

Both sides of the argument have been addressed, yet neither seem to hit the nail on the head.

Historian Carter G. Woodson founded the Associate for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH) and celebrated the first Negro History Week in February 1926, according to www.africanamericanhistorymonth.gov. This would be the foundation for Black History Month.

The original intent of Negro History Week (which spanned both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass’s birthdays) was not to segregate Black history from American history, but to celebrate an unacknowledged branch of American history.

This was not a time when African Americans were celebrated in the larger American society, nor would change come until the Civil Rights Movement and subsequent years of social acclimation to the change this legislation prompted.

Claiming that whites have never experienced anything like the plight of slavery is simply not true: what about the Jewish Holocaust during World War II?

The African Holocaust, the use of Africans as slave labor to establish the infrastructure and economic base of the budding United States, was just as tragic and inhumane — a moral failing of a people using others for personal benefit with no incentive for change.

While not all whites were responsible for the Pan-Atlantic slave trade, that is not the point of Black History Month.

It is time one can choose to be aware of the great contributions to America that African Americans have made, just as May is a time to celebrate Jewish Heritage Month — though Jewish people are also white people.

Arguing over a sense of entitlement is beyond the point of the holiday. It is as petty as arguing that Breast Cancer Awareness Month is a social action which inadvertently states breast cancer is more important than other diseases.

Above all, America is not the melting pot it has been described as. It is a mix of cultures, ethnicities and other identities. The only way to discover your identity is to have it challenged; the only way to know your accomplishments and failures is to look at what you’ve done.

And perhaps the discussion I’ve seen in The North Wind reaffirms the thought of a legendary African American for whom Black History Month was founded, Frederick Douglass: “America is false to the past, false to the present and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future.”

We can atone for the sins of our forefathers by never forgetting the mistakes they made, and that is the purpose of Black History Month. Perhaps this kind of social awareness is the first thing to challenge your own identity.

Don’t turn from it. Learn from it.