Black history month is not to be compromised

William T. Robinson, Jr.

Black history month is dedicated to highlighting the achievements and accomplishments of African Americans, a proud and beautiful people. It is a time to educate the world about a people whose story has been for the most part withheld and their contributions untold or trivialized.

It is very important that the children of African Americans and those wanting to better appreciate African Americans as a people, know the truth of the perseverance and courage of Blacks throughout history, especially in their tumultuous existence in this country. We are describing a country that has too long denied their children of African ancestry a place at the table.

This is a month to help dismiss Eurocentric narratives devised to negate or trivialized the worth of Blacks. They have disavowed the role that African Americans who contributed in the building of this country as well as their global contributions. Unfortunately, for the most part of the African American experience in this country, they were treated as chattel property, denied the rights of their White counterparts and even now in many places relegated to second class status.

Let’s make no mistake, the history of African Americans in this country has been brutal and ugly, all the more reason to acknowledge the truth, to make changes, to move forward. The mere fact it is the elephant in the room that is often ignored keeps progress stagnant in eradicating or improving racial relations in this country.

The quagmire is the reluctance of many institutions of learning to truthfully teach Black history, opting to dilute or sugar coat it because the unadulterated truth makes many of our White counterparts feel uncomfortable. The problem becomes more about pacifying the descendants of those who oppressed Africans Americans by white washing the truth about instituting nefarious barriers, denying African Americans basic human rights afforded to White citizens. It is only when the truth (however painful and hurtful as it may be) is acknowledged and discussed can positive productive changes go forward. The whole country wins if we truly value egalitarianism.

However, you have some Whites who are adamant that Black history (specifically about slavery) promotes hate and racism because it makes some people angry.  Maybe it should make you angry, but it should not promote hate. The anger or hurt should be directed toward making serious amends to compensate for this country’s mistreatment of its African American children.

I can understand some sympathetic Whites being appalled, upset and embarrassed at the heinous, horrendous treatment their grandparents and older ancestors rendered toward African Americans as it relates to slavery, Jim Crow, share cropping, Black codes, segregation and discrimination. But you would think this would make God fearing Whites want to rectify the wrongs of their ancestors if possible.

Many may find it ironic that some Whites can turn the positive aspect of exposing the world to African American history around to make it about making Whites feeling guilty concerning slavery. That’s part of the problem in America, because too many times it appears more about sparing the feeling of Whites. Blacks’ feelings are treated as inconsequential. Is it fair to dilute or whitewash the unpleasant part of Black history to keep some Whites from feeling uncomfortable? When did Black History Month become about making concessions to appease those Whites who may feel uncomfortable or who just plain don’t like a month honoring African Americans and their history?

History, which includes Black history, is about the past—good or bad. It cannot be changed, no matter how much you may try to wish it away. It happened. But you can learn from the mistakes made in the past to keep the mistakes from being made again. Many times, present day Whites become defiant and oppositional when they are accosted with the iniquities of their forefathers, claiming they personally had nothing to do with those nefarious acts. However, they have a responsibility as descendants and recipients of the generational wealth acquired through the sweat, toil, and blood of free Black labor attributed to building this country. Compensation or amends are inevitable if this country is to seriously go forward in a positive direction.

Attributing racism to Black History Month only validates White privilege when Whites see it as a threat to their feelings, feelings they see as superior to others. Some Blacks are angered at some aspects of Black history, but they generally don’t hate Whites. They have a better understanding of their current position in this country and channel the anger toward working harder for change—vowing we, as a race, are never going back. Remember, we have always been told, “The truth will set you free.”