California State University East Bay

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California State University East Bay

The Pioneer

California State University East Bay

The Pioneer

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African-American History Month Should Be More Than Just a Dream

The “dream” needs to become a reality.

This February, as in the previous 36 years, American media outlets will play and replay clips of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream Speech” in celebration of African-American History Month.

This month will also mark yet another round of debate about the necessity and effectiveness of the celebration.

Truly, this would not be an America without the culture and contributions of African-Americans; their history is burned into the creation of this country and has been integral in making the United States the country it is today.

Still, we must question the continued usefulness of this “month of awareness” as it has become a show of political correctness more than an educational opportunity.

Black History Month, now more appropriately termed African-American History Month, was created by historian Carter G. Woodson in 1926. Woodson dubbed the celebration Negro History Week, though the goal was the same — to educate people about African-American history and cultural background and to bring attention to a group whose achievements at the time were heavily ignored through legal segregation.

Many have argued months like African-American History Month provide a ready made excuse to ignore that demographics history for the next 11 months. Others argue heritage months imply the history of a particular sub-group is separate from the overall American history.

Like Morgan Freeman reminded Mike Wallace on the news show “60 Minutes” in 2009, “Which month is White History Month?”

We will never know whether Woodson would see the present heritage month as necessary or not, or whether he would agree with analysts who say it promotes racism or has turned into a mundane, meaningless and commercialized farce.

But it is important to remember that African-American History Month, in the end, should be more than just a “dream.”

Our generation needs to stop singing the same refrain of “We Shall Overcome,” and come up with new ideas and concrete action plans that will allow us to realize King’s dream.

With the many prevailing issues affecting the African-American community, perhaps a good place to start would be creating year round educational opportunities, media discussions and focus on solutions that will stabilize future for a vital American community.

There needs to come a time when African-American History Month is represented as homogeneous with that of the American history.

I should not have to wait 11 months to see regular programming on Jackie Robinson’s genius, attend special workshops engaging dialogue on the state of Black America, hear Billie Holiday’s bewitching harmony or read special features on prominent African-Americans in my community.

Without including the black narrative in our everyday media and conversations, the story and evolution of this country’s history is incomplete.

Instead, recognition of African-American history and present day status should be continuous. One month to pledge a commitment to new solutions to black poverty, housing inequity, education, crime and other modern challenges is not sufficient. It is the lack of consistent commitment and dialogue that has led to the racial inequality we still see today.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for African-Americans is still far higher than the rate for other racial and ethnic groups, as well as the nation as a whole. Economists say it’s too early to say a job market recovery for African-Americans is underway.

When even our leaders don’t give African-American history the respect it deserves, we can see that our current efforts and history month celebrations are inadequate. When former Republican Presidential candidate Michelle Bachmann addressed a crowd in Iowa last year she said our founding fathers “worked tirelessly until slavery was no more in the United States.” In his commentary, CNN’s Anderson Cooper said Bachmann “white-washed our painful history over slavery.”

Alarmingly, Bachmann is not alone. A 2011 Pew Research Center study found that just 2 percent of high school seniors in the United States could articulate what Brown v. Board of Education was about.

Our schools need to implement the importance of politics and history through constant dialogue and not just when February rolls around.

Every month should be American History Month.

According to historian John Hope Franklin, Woodson “fervently hoped that soon the history of African-Americans would become an integral part of American history and would be observed throughout the year.”

Now that we are all thinking about it, let’s use this month to think of ways to realize a better future where we can all thrive, not just survive. Together we can make King’s dream a reality.

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African-American History Month Should Be More Than Just a Dream