Thursday, February 17, 2011

Black History Month?

An old saying in essence goes, "I'm laughing to keep from crying!" which reminds me of the conflicting sentiments that arise over the notion of a Black History Month. There are supporters who make jokes about the fact that the shortest month of the year is devoted to Black History while opponents get rankled over the fact that there is a month designated to a single ethnic group. Well, this may come as a surprise but I think they're both right!

Black History in the USA is the history of this nation. Without us there would be no nation. The early settlers needed the Natives to help them learn to survive and they were ill-equip to do much more than that. Their next move was to try and enslave these indigenous peoples to perform the herculean task of building an infrastructure for a fledgling nation but that proved to be a "peace pipe" dream. It's awfully hard to beat a man on his home turf playing by his rules.

So, along came option number two. Let's dehumanize and bring in a new group that will make us the home team and we can create our own rules. It was indeed a successful strategy for a couple of hundred years and it illustrates why Black History is American History. From agriculture to the industrial revolution to the advent of modern technology, we have been an irreplaceable part of the story not only as labor but just as importantly as inventors and innovators. Yes, without a Black History Month perhaps all of our contributions would quickly become obscure and forgotten but that's because we, all Americans, don't demand that all ethnicities be given their rightful place in the history books of this nation.

You may have noticed that I denote ethnicity and not race. That's because race as a fictionalized frequently redefined term is the primary underlying factor in the process of keeping people divided. Here's how the American Anthropological Association (AAA) stated it in its recommendation to the US Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for the 2010 Census:

The American Anthropological Association (AAA) recommended that OMB combine the "race" and "ethnicity" categories into one question to appear as "race/ethnicity" for the 2010 US Census. The Interagency Committee agrees, stating that “"race" and "ethnicity” were not sufficiently defined and “that many respondents conceptualize "race" and "ethnicity" as one in the same underscor[ing] the need to consolidate these terms into one category, using a term that is more meaningful to the American people.”[4]

The AAA also stated,

"The American Anthropological Association recommends the elimination of the term "race" from OMB Directive 15 during the planning for the 2010 Census. During the past 50 years, "race" has been scientifically proven to not be a real, natural phenomenon. More specific, social categories such as "ethnicity" or "ethnic group" are more salient for scientific purposes and have fewer of the negative, racist connotations for which the concept of race was developed."

"Yet the concept of race has become thoroughly--and perniciously--woven into the cultural and political fabric of the United States. It has become an essential element of both individual identity and government policy. Because so much harm has been based on "racial" distinctions over the years, correctives for such harm must also acknowledge the impact of "racial" consciousness among the U.S. populace, regardless of the fact that "race" has no scientific justification in human biology. Eventually, however, these classifications must be transcended and replaced by more non-racist and accurate ways of representing the diversity of the U.S. population."

The bottom line here is that race is a made-up term that is used to classify people in ways that make it possible to discriminate based on artificial attention to perceptions about physical differences. Biologists have long acknowledged that there is one race of humans with many different surface characteristics but underneath we all possess the same physiology influenced only by our ancestral location origins. These are ethnic differences. Race is a better term for animal types. There are races of birds, monkeys, fishes, etc. because they can have physiologies that are not interchangeable.

So with that backdrop, let's use Black History Month to launch a more ethnic friendly version of history for all people. Otherwise, we may be forced to call attention to the fact that all humans can trace their ancestry beyond Europe, Asia, and the Americas to Africa meaning that ultimately we're all simply displaced Africans...

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