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Thursday, 09 February 2012

Every year when Black History Month comes up, so too do the questions. Some people would like the celebration to last all year long, with no special month set aside for it. Some want Black History Month to remain as is. And some want to abolish it altogether, arguing that any race-based observance like this serves only to divide the nation.

The divisiveness claim, of course, has no merit. Ours is a Eurocentric nation, with the culture of the majority whites overwhelmingly dominating every aspect of our lives,  to the point where one is led to believe that to become Americanized means to become white in every respect except skin color — and a few have been working on even that one.

But the unifying factor in our nation cannot be a culture that does not include the other elements that comprise who we are. However difficult it is to achieve, there has to be an assertion of self by those who are not of the majority so nationhood can reflect the melting pot culture that we are.

Those who want Black History Month to remain no doubt have just that in mind when they insist that setting aside one month out of 12 is not too much to ask of our nation so we can, all of us, reflect on the immeasurable contributions that blacks have made to lay the foundations of our country and maintain the much-talked-about “American exceptionalism” that we show to the rest of the world.

The concern, though, is whether there is genuine observance of black history during February or whether it has become simply another meaningless page in our national calendar that only school children and their teachers should concern themselves about.

The answer is that in some quarters, but not nearly enough, there is a genuine effort to make the month meaningful, especially among a handful of corporations, which, while admittedly having a self-serving interest in the matter, do make a commendable effort to highlight the achievements of the people — and their descendants — who were brought to this land in bondage, forced to work under the whip and, when finally set free, were sent off the plantation with no collateral but still have risen above those circumstances and, in many cases, have achieved greatness.

There is nothing wrong with retaining Black History Month but every effort must be made to ensure that the concept behind the observance does not fade until next year. Black history is about more than just a month.

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