Girish Gupta

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Do we still need Black History Month?
Mar. 8, 2010

Published by Student Direct: Mancunion

“I’m gonna stop calling you a white man and I'm gonna ask you to stop calling me a black man,” says Morgan Freeman in a CBS ’60 Minutes’ interview.

“How [then] are we gonna get rid of racism?” asks CBS interviewer Mike Wallace. Freeman curtly interrupts, “Stop talking about it.” Isn’t it now time to do just that?

Over in the United States, February marks Black History Month, designated for the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln, the US president that ended slavery, and Frederick Douglass, who was born into slavery but became one of the most prominent people to be involved in raising awareness of its harsh realities.

Carter G. Woodson conceived Negro History Week in 1926. He hoped that the event could one day be eliminated, when black history and American history would become one—much aligned with the thoughts of Freeman.

Negro History Week evolved into Black History Month in 1976 thanks to US President Gerald Ford. Is it time to realise Woodson’s dream and cast it aside knowing that it is just a hangover of a time when racism was rife? It is time to realise that a period commemorating the historical achievement of one race is archaic and racist in itself?

While famed for his incompetency in power which is overshadowed with the legacy of the Middle Eastern wars he began, George W Bush had the most ethnically diverse cabinet in US history. His predecessor Bill Clinton was often referred to as America’s first black president, before Barack Obama took the literal crown, as he had done so much for the community*.

With Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice in such high positions in the US government and now with Barack Obama at its helm, is it not time that America realised that racism is only inflicted by constant discussion and pandering to political correctness?

Yes, black people are more likely to be in prison, do badly at school and even have a lower life expectancy. But the reasons for this will in no way be ripped apart in celebrating black history. What is required is integration, by sharing black history with world history, not marginalising it to one month in the year.

Yes, acknowledge the crime statistics. And yes, acknowledge the despicable stain on world history that was the slave trade. But cleave it from being celebrated solely during a month of black history, leaving it forgotten for the rest of the year. It is a stain on world history.

Black History Month, the Music of Black Origin (MOBO) awards, Asian Businessman of the Year and all the similar, racist, awards and celebrations are nothing but divisive in a country that is willing to accept anyone, whatever they may bring to its culture.

The UK’s Black History Month website claims its aims are to “promote knowledge of black history, cultural and heritage; disseminate information on positive black contributions to British society; heighten the confidence and awareness of black people to their cultural heritage.”

None of these will help to end racism. Stop talking about it.

*Though Toni Morrison who originally used the phrase claims: “I was deploring the way in which President Clinton was being treated, vis-à-vis the sex scandal that was surrounding him. I said he was being treated like a black on the street, already guilty, already a perp. I have no idea what his real instincts are, in terms of race.” However, it was quickly taken up to mean as I describe.




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© Girish Gupta