Commentary - Is it really Black History Month?
February 4, 2014
February is Black History Month, a time set aside to highlight the achievements of African Americans. As an American I am more than proud of the contributions made by my ancestors to making this nation, this world, a better place to live.
I remember studying black history in elementary school. My teachers were of various ethnicities and all shared a great sense of knowledge and pride in introducing young minds to the works of authors like Phyllis Wheatly, Langston Hughes and Lorraine Hainsberry just like they did when discussing William Shakespeare and Mark Twain. They were just as enthusiastic discussing inventors. If you learned about Thomas Edison you would also learn about Lewis Latimer, the scientist and inventor who perfected the filament for light bulbs to make them last longer and cost less.
My favorite teacher back then was Mrs. Graham, an intense woman who shared her passion for education with you whether you liked it or not. She opened up a whole new world of possibilities for me. For her, black history wasn't restricted to 28 calendar days. For her, it was a 365-day experience. For her, it was American history.
With Mrs. Graham there was no other way of explaining it. She was the first one I remember using the analogy of Americans being part of a salad rather than a melting pot. In a melting pot, things blend together to become one. In a salad things are combined, each maintaining their unique characteristics to become something much more than each ingredient, without each piece losing its own flavor. That made a lot of sense to me. Mrs. Graham taught me that black history is American history and vice versa.
When we honor those who helped build this great country we live in, we need to make sure we do so in a way that unites, not divides. Some may view ethnic celebrations as being for only certain groups. That's anything but the truth. The honoring of the various groups only shows what their contributions meant to this nation. Until fairly recently, history has been written by those with the power and more often than not, those people chose to write about themselves and others like them. As Americans became more educated, they also became more aware that some bits and pieces were left out of the tale of what this nation was built upon. These moments of remembrance serve as a further opportunity to educate and grow as a people. We should take time to honor those who helped build this great country we live in. You can separate achievements by race, ethnicity or gender all you like but when the rubber hits the road, they--we--are all part of the fabric that is America.
So yeah, we celebrate February as Black History Month. Next month we'll celebrate Women's History Month and so on and so on. The one thing that should be taught and never forgotten as we pay tribute to our past is that our past is the foundation of this great nation. The foundation is a solid one built on the aspirations of Americans.
That being said, I say every month is American History Month, each building on the other for the greater whole. Let's not forget the uniqueness of every ingredient in this salad and enjoy it for what it is.
(NOTE: Larry D. McCaskill is the editor of the Army Contracting Command's weekly NewsBlast at Redstone Asenal, Ala. He is an Army veteran and native New Yorker.)