February is Black History Month, and while we understand the need to educate people and bring attention to important issues or worthy causes, we worry that there are so many “awareness” months that the real information and need for action get lost in the noise.
Until recently, most of recorded American history ignored the contributions and tribulations of our fellow citizens who happen to be black. To create a special time devoted to fill that gap served a good purpose.
Black History Month has become a pro-forma event, with the same old stories trundled out, about the same small group of individuals. The glowing, feel-good tales of athletes, artists, scientists and statesmen, are useful as examples for younger students, but lack academic rigor or moral courage and fail to challenge pre-conceived ideas.
Too many school districts do not weave the black experience into American history on a daily basis, most likely because there is this special month. It makes ignoring the tough issues easier the rest of the year.
Where are the deeper discussions, for example? The examination of past choices regarding race in America — like the fact that Highlands County didn’t begin to integrate its schools until 1969, and took several years to finish the process?
We hope we have evolved as a society to the point where American history can be taught holistically — weaving all the various threads into the tapestry that is our nation.
We need to understand why slavery, which betrayed our bedrock values right from the beginning, was allowed to stand and took so long to overcome. We need to study why George Washington ultimately freed his slaves, and Thomas Jefferson did not.
We need to study the warped logic that allowed a constitutional amendment claiming a slave was only 3/5th of a man.
We need to learn about the kind of hatred that led to lynchings — just as we need to learn about the hate that excluded Jews from much of society, or why German, Irish and Italian immigrants, just to name three examples, were so vilified when they first arrived.
In a world where events across the world do have a direct impact on us, we need to understand how the nations of the world relate to each other, as well as the historical background that created those complicated relationships.
All of us, for example, need to learn there are 47 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, 50 nations in Europe, 12 in South America and 32 in Asia — and no two are identical.
In other words, we need to learn more about our shared pasts and the world we live in than can be taught in any one month.
Just as Christians should think of Christ every day, not just at Christmas or Easter, we need to be thinking every day about how we’ve gotten to where we are. It is the only way we can find our way into the future.