February marks the annual commemoration of Black History Month -- a feeble attempt to condense 391 years of history into a 28-day cycle. I say feeble not out of disrespect, but rather acknowledging the undertaking, if it is be a serious one, is insurmountable.
Moreover, when we think of the African American legacy it does not require much research to quickly conclude that it is a vast and somewhat paradoxical contribution, which lends to the notion that any attempt to compress into a single canonized month is futile in the best-case scenario.
There also are those who suggest the reality of electing an African American as president is proof that the need for commemorating Black History Month has passed. Does the election of Barack Obama mean we have symbolically reached the lofty heights of Dr. Martin Luther King's vaunted "dream?"
When President Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize, many of the comparisons were obviously drawn between him and Dr. King. They were the nation's most historically prominent African Americans and both winners of the Nobel Peace Prize, but very little was said about the first African American to win the Nobel honor, Dr. Ralph Bunche.
Dr. Bunche was intellectual and a diplomat. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1950 for his mediation in Palestine, he was involved in the formation of the United Nations, and in 1963, President John F. Kennedy awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Last year, Attorney General Eric Holder, speaking during Black History Month, said we were a nation of cowards when it comes to race. We certainly lack the requisite maturity to confront sensitive issues authentically.
As a result, Black History Month, though its intent is a worthy exercise, in is current form has become a profoundly American endeavor. I define it a "profoundly American" because Black History Month carries a sound-bite aspect that is consistent with how most issues are addressed in our 21st century culture.
The usual suspects can be counted on to make their appearance in February, but such examples will only scratch the surface. This oversimplification is akin to the practice of making one's position on the invasion and occupation of the sovereign nation of Iraq fit within the confines of a bumper sticker.
The simple fact that there is a Black History Month renders the legacy of African Americans to adjunct status in the annals of American history.
This certainly was not the intention of Dr. Carter G. Woodson, who in 1926 started what was originally called Negro History Week as a way to bring attention to the positive contributions of black people in American history.
Seldom is there any discussion that white women, particularly in the South, were benefactors of the civil rights movement. Until civil rights legislation was passed in the 1960s, white women could not serve on juries.
Therefore, it is hardly a stretch to conclude that the civil rights movement was not solely to improve conditions for African Americans; it was a movement that made America better.
It was, in my opinion, the greatest commitment to American democracy in the 20th century, exceeding anything that Thomas Jefferson or James Madison could have conceived.
It is a movement that is a lasting part of American history that influences people around the world. The fact is, there are very few aspects of American history that are universally accepted as great moments for the nation that do not have an accompanying contribution from African Americans.
This year will mark the 56th anniversary of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision that officially struck down segregation. Though we can agree our world today is fundamentally different from what existed when the Brown decision was handed down in 1954, our failure to fully embrace our shared history, not only the contributions of African Americans but also other marginalized groups, serves as a deterrent from moving beyond differences that continue to keep us hamstrung socially.
Black History Month is an arduous task because there is simply too much to cover in such a short period. And it hardly appears we possess the maturity to engage in an authentic integration of that history.
Therefore, the unintentional consequence of the current application of Black History Month denies all Americans a full and rich understanding of the contributions made by men and women who believed in America sometimes more than America believed in itself.
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