Black History should not be limited

Published 7:22 pm Monday, February 19, 2007

By By Tray Smith
One of the most heart wrenching displays at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is a large container of shoes. Shoes slipped from the feet of victims, mostly Jews, as they entered the gas chambers and crematoriums of the numerous Nazi death camps established throughout Europe during Hitler's reign. Those crematoriums and gas chambers brought death to over nine million people. Though I am not a Jew, I lost control of my emotions when I first viewed this exhibit two years ago. And though I am not a German, my freedom and livelihood, which I so often take for granted, cloaked me in a feeling of guilt at this horrendous sight.
In the same way, though I am not black, I easily lose control of my emotions when I think of those who spent years bound by the chains of slavery in my own country. And though slavery was not as tragic in scope as the holocaust, I feel guilty for the 84 years my country allowed the practice to continue unchallenged.
The negative consequence of black history month is that it denigrates the contributions black leaders and inventors have made to our society by sectionalizing their achievements as the achievements of one race. But indeed, their accomplishments, and the accomplishments of all of the great men of American history, are the achievements of not one race but of one people and one nation, which since it was founded in 1776, has led the world in the fight for social equality. The time has come that we realize, collectively, the objective fact that we all benefit from having a society of liberty and justice for all, whether or not we belong to formerly persecuted ethnic groups.
When Rosa Parks sat stubbornly in her seat on a Montgomery bus, she did not simply save herself the trouble of relocating; she sparked a movement that caused America to rethink the intolerance that plagued this land for nearly two centuries. Martin Luther King Jr.'s call for this nation to rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed did not benefit blacks and blacks alone, it benefited all Americans. Through his speeches and campaigns, this late American leader came to embody the very principles of our nation, and his efforts led us to live up to them. Everyone can appreciate the sacrifices King and Parks made for our country and the benefits of their efforts. After all, without leaders like Martin Luther King, Vernon Jordon, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, Thomas Sowell, Michael Steal and J.C. Watts, we would still be segregated into the land of obscurity, forcing our nation to forgo the contributions each of these individuals have made to our well being. One must be not be black to love to eat peanuts, a plant whose agricultural production benefited from George Washing Carver's research, or to feel safer because of the traffic light, which was first patented by black inventor Garrett Morgan.
When former President Clinton delivered his final state of the union address, he implored his fellow citizens to imagine the day when America would have no majority race and would celebrate our multiculturalism. But there will never be such a day, because the majority race in America will always be that of the Americans, who may be black, white, or brown. It is the American race which consumes one hundred percent of our citizenry, and it is time we realize that when one American accomplishes a great task, all Americans benefit. We must stop viewing each other through color; we must start viewing each other through our common nationality.
It is those, like the former president, who try to recreate the divisions that darkened us for so long for profit, political advantage and "multiculturalism," who give rise to all of the prejudice that remains in our country today. Those ideas offend not only every principal this country was founded on; but also the contributions of the black leaders they are meant to honor. Not that our current president is doing much better. He often brags about the diversity of his cabinet, as if that makes them more qualified for public service. Only through overcoming our aversion to politically incorrect truths will we ever be able to achieve complete racial healing.
My argument is not that these black leaders do not deserve recognition and praise. My argument is not that black people cannot be proud of their heritage. My argument is that you do not have to be black to benefit from black history and black history is too rich to be confined to a month. In our classrooms, our textbooks and our society at large, black history should be celebrated just like American history, because black history is an essential part of American history.
That is the bottom line.
Tray Smith is a sophomore at ECHS and former intern in the Riley administration. He can be reached for comment at

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