Friday, February 4, 2011

Understanding Black History Month -- or any other

The other day I posted about Black History Month. I think it's interesting that it drew the attention of Canadians and I received two emails from even further away, Guatemala and Japan (not sure why they chose to email but they did and that's OK). The lady from Japan, a country with virtually no racial or cultural minorities, was fascinated by Black History Month; she asked if America has designated other months to celebrate its other minorities.

Yes, in fact, we have:

March: Women's History Month
May: Asian American and Pacific Islander Month & also Jewish American Heritage Month
September: Hispanic American Heritage Month (it begins September 15 and ends October 15)
October: Filipino American History Month
November: American Indian Heritage Month*

I've been thinking that we can look at these months as remembrances of human failure, slavery, oppression, even genocide, or we can look at these months as national celebrations about human endurance, achievement, and triumph. If we look at these months with an emphasis on the former, then we may fail to see the latter but surely it doesn't work the same in the reverse: if we study the latter, then we will have to also study human failure, slavery, oppression, even genocide, in order to savor the full richness of that people's endurance, achievement, and triumph.

We need to remember, though, that it is never all about "them" -- no matter who you are, the stories about other people are also about you. We are all inexorably intertwined. Certainly, the heart of the story must remain about the minority or we risk co-opting them (yet again) by the larger more overpowering story. But my point, however, is this: we are all in this together and always have been.

If Blacks have been robbed about the truth of their vastly rich heritage, so have those who are not Black, for there are parts of their history that have shaped our stories in immeasurable ways.  So it is with the Jews, Hispanics, Asians, Islanders, Filipinos and Native Americans, as well of course as all those of the female sex. The history of the one is the history of the all.

So, if you're under the assumption that Black History Month or Hispanic History Month -- or any of the other specially designated months -- are nothing more than fanciful creations to serve as political sops to a minority group: think again.

Understand that the majority has been robbed of its history as surely as the minority and it's going to take a long time for the history books we use in our schools to finally reflect an accurate telling of Western Civilization and American history. As I write this today there are forces in America that are determined to control the story, even at the cost of fabricating it totally.

I understand that it's very, very hard to let go of information we've been instructed to remember; information that may have been brow beaten into us or passed down to us from our parents. Historians in training learn this first hand when they're forced to confront how little truth they were originally told. Learning about our real history or the broader truths of history comes as a shock to all of us.

But if you want to really know who YOU are, then you also need to know who THEY are -- because as I already said, we're all in this together.
* My list may not be comprehensive

1 comment:

  1. yes, indeed! i have yet to read zinn's history, but i have separately admire3d the chippewa for boiling their maple sap by leaving it out in shallow bark vessels to freeze off the water part, which they then use in cooking, or elderly women in grocery stores, who can demonstrate how to survive while pinching pennies, or blacks who still endure so much blame and condemnation after the unfairness of never getting their promised 40 acres and a mule after their labor built the south (and parts of the north). and on and on....