Monday, February 13, 2012

Black History Month

Photo: Freedom taken by ” 
- Roy Rudolph DeCarva 1919 - 2009

I was asked recently by some young friends of mine if I thought Black History Month promoted racism or helped to eliminate it.  I posted the question on my Facebook page to let people give their thoughts before I responded.  
Let me first start by sharing a story of an encounter.  Many years ago, my friend said, "How do you get away with it?", referring to BET - Black Entertainment Television.  He went on to say, "we could never get away with White Entertainment Television."  While I empathized with the double standard, I told him he already had it, and it was called ABC, CBS and NBC.
This was the start of my answer to my two young friends. I told them, Black History Month was simply that, Black History Month.  Is racism a part of black history? Absolutely.  Is it part of Black History Month? Absolutely, but not because of the reasons you think.  Black History is not white guilt month, it is Black History Month.  When learning about what African Americans had to overcome to be considered equal, racism will certainly be a hurdle.  If that makes white people uncomfortable, truth sometimes hurts.  
This is part of the reason I started my daily Black History Post on my Facebook page:  It is impossible to talk about African Americans within the American story without covering the topic of racism. Therefore it is impossible to avoid it when we discuss Black History Month.  Just because we talk about it doesn't mean we hinder or help it.  Actions speak louder than words.  So for me, Black History Month has been about doing some homework on African Americans and African American firsts in our Nation's History.  
In the media today, everything gets compared to the civil rights movement. Healthcare, gay marriage, pro-life, the mortgage crisis, even the occupy demonstrations. We are told there is the 99% and the 1%. Personally I believe there is no 99% or 1% we are all in it together and I have little sympathy for people who stand in line for hours to get their $299 smart phones so they can tweet pictures of how under privileged they are. I never saw any photos of lines outside the retail stores during the great depression unless there was a help wanted sign in the window. So are we really as bad off as we think, and how does this get linked to Black History Month.  Let’s shine some light on that perspective. Did you know 75% of people wear corrective lenses.  Where is the other 25% demanding they get eyewear or contacts. Did you know that 61% of wealthy people considered to be in the top 1% drive Toyota, Honda & Ford cars.  Where is the outcry for the little people to be able to drive a Camary or a Fusion?  Did you know that only 5% of the worlds population has flown on a plane. Oh the horror.  31.6% of Americans have no internet access!  It's like the stone age! I fear sharing this..., 98.2% of Americans do not own an Apple Computer,..Oh - Dear - God! Perhaps the one we never see marching in the streets, is because they lack the coordination to march, only 8% of Americans play a musical instrument.  Riot in the street over that one and demand an instrument and lessons. This is not a debate between the have’s and have not’s it is between the have’s and I want’s. And for the record it has nothing to do with Civil Rights. But for the sake of argument, I’ll indulge.
What about the woman who wrote the Harry Potter series, when she was a financially struggling mom. How about Steve Jobs and Woz in their parents garage working on a personal computer. Or Bill Gates when he dropped out of college. Even NASA Rocket Scientist - Homer Hickam, when his father was shoveling coal, and he was building model rockets.  Were these people in the 99% or the 1%? Or did they simply change their story?  
You see that type of language is dangerous.  It is beyond dangerous, it is apocalyptic throughout history. Think back on how blacks were made less then human during slavery. Think back to how the Jews were blamed for all that was wrong with Germany during Hitlers holocaust in WW2.  We saw it recently in the Ethnic cleansing in Yugoslavia.  We are seeing it again in Syria and Egypt. And even still in our own country with regard to the discussion of illegal immigrants. All over the world, the sex trade is booming. Terrorist think others are less than human and should not be allowed to exist on the planet. History marches down this road repeatedly.  
The dangerous language of the Civil Rights movement was not that Blacks wanted to be in the same percentage or have the same possessions as whites.  It was that we believed God made us all equal, and He didn’t measure it by possessions.  
Pay attention, I'll say it again.  The dangerous language of the civil rights movement was that WE ARE ALL EQUAL. That is inflammatory speech when coming from a group of people you have deemed less than human. It wasn't our rights or lack of, it wasn't our money, or lack of, and it wasn't our employment or lack of that we were fighting for. We were fighting for the right to be free. Then and only then could we begin to write our American story. We had to be free.  
This is why it is so important to see yourself as part of the American story.  The whole story.  For me, Black History is the infusion of truth into the American Story.  It is how, where, why, and when African Americans changed the direction of this nation.  In order to fight racism, you have to change the paradigm.  Much of our history has been whitewashed.  Contributions made from African Americans were simply left out of history. This is why racism can be seen woven through Black History Month. There is no agenda, it is simply truth and in many cases an unpleasant one to admit. Without the ability to see a culture or a race as an integral part of our country, we devalue that race or culture and over time we lose that country. 
Black History month is more than the Mass 54th, the first combat colored regiment in the Civil War. It is beyond the Tuskegee Airmen, It is bigger than Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Jackie Robinson, and President Obama. It even goes beyond Whitney Houston being the first African American to be on the cover of Seventeen magazine or Doug Williams being the first black quarterback to win a Super Bowl.  We’ve been sold the story, that success looks white in this country.  It has been said that whoever tells the best story wins the culture.  How do African Americans expect to impact current culture when the stories being told on television and in film still portray us as the criminals, the car jackers, the drug store gunmen, the unfaithful fathers and husbands, and the uneducated gangsters who control the drug trade with a secret language and hand gestures.  Black History Month for me is about telling the whole story of America so that over time all Americans will know that we played just as big a role in birthing this nation as any other race.  Despite the generational wealth that skipped blacks in the founding of our country, Black History month should be an inspiration. No matter what percent you think you are in, most of us will never again have to face the types of hardships and discrimination that early African Americans did. Against all odds, we were able to beat back the chains of slavery, oppression, poor education, violence, unemployment and acts of terrorism to become scientist, authors, inventors, musicians, athletes, actors, politicians, presidents, doctors, dancers, military generals, pilots and astronauts.
Until the names of Charles Drew, Garret Morgan, and Lewis Latimer show up in history books next to Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, and Ben Franklin we will continue to shine light where there is darkness. Until we re-educate a generation of students that only read about blacks during the slavery chapter of their social studies and history books black history month will remain a tool.  When America sees how African Americans contributed equally to the great American Story, the world may begin to see true equality.  Once that happens then nothing can stop this country's ability to be what God intended.  I hope that answers the question.
“It doesn’t have to be pretty to be true, but if it’s true it’s beautiful. Truth is beautiful. And so my whole work is about what amounts to a reverence for life itself.” 
- Roy Rudolph DeCarva 1919 - 2009

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