Black History Month: Celebrating Race-Based Achievement is Racism

by | Feb 23, 2003

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character,” are the most memorable words, to me at least, of Dr. King’s monumental address to civil rights marchers in Washington, […]

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character,” are the most memorable words, to me at least, of Dr. King’s monumental address to civil rights marchers in Washington, D.C. Then what a shame it is today that we have a month dedicated to celebrating a group of human achievers whose criteria is black skin color. I’m talking about Black History Month.

Two years ago, I published a commentary in Drexel’s The Triangle attacking the idea of Black History Month. It resulted in nearly a month of vitriolic commentaries that extended the weekly Ed-Op section from two to four pages. My column hung on the door of the Black Student Union office for months. The Minority Leadership Council held a forum entitled “In Response to the Urbano Editorial.” Over 200 people attended the forum and it was complete with a PowerPoint presentation. I wasn’t formally invited (only “minority” organization members were) but I made a surprise appearance and lost my voice answering questions without a microphone for over two hours.

There was a lot of misunderstanding. The forum helped me realize the cost of not clearly defining the exact meaning of the words one uses. In the end, the biggest victim of this ordeal was clarity. My sin was tackling a subject so wide in scope that no single 1200-word commentary would suffice. That’s why I’m writing a second.

Some argue that Black History month is intended to counteract the historical bias against blacks. The Tulane University Black History Month Web site reads, “Obviously, a White History Month is not needed because the contributions of whites are already acknowledged by society. Black History Month is meant to remedy this inequity of representation.” According to Jacquelyn West-Ford, Drexel’s senior associate dean of students, “Black History Month is simply a time to bring attention to the achievements that black Americans have made to education and society.”

But Black History Month is not meant to remedy inequity of recognition as such — merely inequity of recognition for those who are black. The holiday discriminates against other unrecognized achievers — as if black achievers were the only ones who have been treated unfairly by history. If remedying inequity of recognition were the true purpose of the holiday, it would be called “Month of Unrecognized Achievers.” It would celebrate people like Nikola Tesla, the father of modern electricity, and not just people like Martin Luther King Jr., whose achievements are already more widely recognized than Tesla’s.

No injustice is remedied by reversing roles. If an individual is excluded from history only because of skin color, blast the historian. To combat discrimination on the basis of race with celebration on the basis of race is to commit the same sin. It is an attempt to “even the score,” but you don’t get points for making more of the same mistake. It asks that we divide people and shift the debate not to the initial fallacy, but to two classes of people: victim and victimizer.

A prime example of this victim mentality is a part of the official statement of Drexel’s International Students and Scholars Office regarding my previous column: “Mr. Urbano, as a white American male, belongs to the most powerful group in the whole world. By belonging to this group, we fully understand that he will never totally understand the minority perspective and all of its implications. As an educated and privileged, white American male, at the very least, he should be able to learn to empathize.” Implication: your ideas are determined by the racial group you were born into–free will be damned.

This is what provocative thinker Larry Elder, who happens to be black, calls the “victicrat” mentality. “The victicrat mentality says ‘You owe me’. It says that forces conspire to pull me down and to hold me back. Thus the black victicrat mentality demands not just equal rights, but equal results, a goal that damages the psyche of both blacks and non-blacks. Black leaders teach blacks to think of themselves as victims and of whites as victimizers.”

“What is called Black History Month,” says prominent author Thomas Sowell, “might more accurately be called ‘the sins of white people’ month. The sins of any branch of the human race are virtually inexhaustible, but the history of blacks in America includes a lot more than the sins of white people, which are put front and center each February.”

How can a month-long celebration of values achieved solely by black individuals repair past damage and reverse past injustice if it shares the same error? It can’t. Sometimes it takes much courage to learn from past mistakes. We must recommit ourselves to the failed goal of Black History Month by renewing our vision of exalted individuals with iron integrity and unparalleled genius by celebrating them for their achievements and only for their achievements. The unchosen physical characteristics that make us automatic members of one race or another must always come secondary to those characteristics that we do choose.

By reevaluating the premises behind Black History Month and by recommitting ourselves to the magnificent words of Dr. King, we will be able to “hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope” and refrain from seeking to “satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.”

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Leonardo F. Urbano is an electrical engineering student at Drexel University.

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