February Is Not Enough

Is the only way to get rid of racism to, “Stop talking about it?”

Actor Morgan Freeman suggested this in an interview with the Associated Press, saying that the concept of dedicating a month to black history is “ridiculous.” For Freeman, black history is synonymous with American history. Continuing to label people “black” and “white” and setting aside a month to honor African-American history does little to eliminate racism in society.

Though I can understand Mr. Freeman’s opinion, I am not convinced that ignoring the topic of racism will aid the healing process. If there is a problem, and sadly race is still an issue in our world, it must be addressed. However, I agree that dividing black culture from the rest of American society stunts our growth as a nation, united not divided by our differences. February is not enough.

Many feel that isolating black history to a single month reinforces the very segregation it is intended to offset. After years of persecution forced upon a group of people based solely on the color of their skin, it seems appropriate to take time to honor their lives and legacies. But, if a month is set aside to honor black history, should there also be a designated month for each group that has been persecuted for their race, ethnicity, age, gender or religion? After all, we are a flawed nation that has wronged more than just our African-American citizens throughout our sometimes embarrassing history.

By setting aside time to celebrate a culture, are we further separating the very histories which make up our nation? Can there be unity if we continue completely detaching a society from America’s history? This disconnection perpetuates the cycle of discrimination rather than working to heal the wounds. It will be a wonderful day when black history is so integrated that there is no longer a need to create division.

Where do we begin the staggering process of merging cultures? The answer may be found in our classrooms. By re-working the standard curriculum to include black artists and activists side-by-side with their literary, political and artistic peers, we are teaching our children that things are not simply black and white but a mixture of cultures and histories with no one being more or less important than another.

For some, setting aside a time to honor and celebrate the contributions of African-Americans to society and acknowledging the continuing battle to escape the clutches of bigotry is something our world desperately needs. Sadly, in schools, African-American literature and history are severely lacking and often reserved for only the month of February. February is not enough.     

Ignoring racism will not stop the hatred. After all, we know that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. But it is possible to honor African-American culture without completely separating it from “American” tradition. I hope to one day see African-American culture and history celebrated not only in February but year-round.

Read More on Minding the Issues
Volume 6, Issue 5, Posted 8:25 AM, 03.10.2010