Who Needs Black History Month?
During an interview with Mike Wallace on "60 Minutes" last month, Academy Award winning actor Morgan Freeman called Black History month "ridiculous," igniting a firestorm of debate about its observance. Freeman told a visibly shocked Wallace, "I don't want a Black History month. Black History is American History. There's no white history month."
Since Freeman's statements became public, I have read numerous editorials written by black intellectuals calling for the end of the celebration of black history month. The premise is that Black History month is no longer necessary, and that a 28 day observance both confines and trivializes the historic contributions of African-Americans in this country.
Prior to even thinking about what Freeman was saying, I had to first get over my continued outrage at white people asking black actors, athletes, and entertainers what they think about issues that are outside of their areas of expertise. Publicizing the opinions of Morgan Freeman doesn't make him a spokesman for the black race. I don't see anyone seeking out Robert DeNiro for opinions about Iraq, but that's a whole different discussion.
But in response to Freeman's comments, all I can say is, "Please."
Celebrating Black History Month no more confines the history of African-Americans than the one day MLK holiday confines the achievements of Dr. Martin Luther King. Or that St. Patrick's Day confines the history of Irish-Americans to March 17th. Want to know how to trivialize African-American history? Eliminate Black History Month.
Mr. Freeman and others maintain that in place of Black History Month, black history should be incorporated into the mainstream history of America. Their thought process is that black history can be celebrated every day by its proper inclusion in American history. Mr. Freeman went so far as to ask Mike Wallace, "Which month is white history month?" The answer unfortunately, is that every month remains white history month in this country, and it is precisely for this reason that Black History month remains relevant and necessary.
Sylvia Cyrus-Albritton, director of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, (which originated the observance of what is now Black History Month), points out that the country still has a long way to go in making its history inclusive. As she told the Baltimore Sun in December:
"We have a mission to research, promote, preserve and disseminate information about the contributions of African-Americans in history and their diaspora," she said. "When that mission is complete, maybe celebrations like Black History Month can take a different slant. American history books -- and the way it is taught -- still [do] not include the full contribution of African-Americans or other minorities for that matter.
"Dr. Woodson hoped that one day there would no longer be a need for Black History Month because it would be incorporated into American history all year round. So the goal Morgan Freeman speaks of is our goal as well."
In some ways, I can understand where Freeman is coming from. Ideally, we wouldn't have to have a special month because American history would be inclusive of all history. Freeman, however, also seems to be advocating that we shouldn't even speak of our differences. Instead, we should just pretend that not only is everyone equal, but that we are the same.
When Mike Wallace asked Freeman how we can get rid of racism, he replied:
"Stop talking about it. I'm going to stop calling you a white man. And I'm going to ask you to stop calling me a black man. I know you as Mike Wallace. You know me as Morgan Freeman. You wouldn't say, 'Well, I know this white guy named Mike Wallace.' You know what I'm sayin?"
I don't know about you, but I simply cannot agree with Freeman. We will not solve racial issues in this country by putting our collective heads in the sand and hoping they will go away. We can't run from our own racial past and delude ourselves that everything is ok in America. Our society still remains segregated in many ways, from where we live and where we worship, to who survives a hurricane. We like to think that we are a society beyond racism, but reality doesn't bear that out.
Race is America's great taboo, and the fact is that there are differences -- cultural and physical -- between people of different races. We need to acknowledge those differences. Pretending like they don't exist is ignoring the elephant in the room. Mike Wallace is a white guy. Morgan Freeman is a black guy. Why ignore the facts?
It's been said that history is written by the victors. Until American history becomes more inclusive of the contributions of all its citizens, Black History Month remains one of the few tangible ways that we can keep our nation's history accurate.
Who needs Black History Month? We all do.