Monday, February 18, 2008
Black History Month
Why Black History Month? What purpose is served by highlighted the contributions of one single group of Americans? Doesn’t a focus on their history only serve to promote the ethnic divide we struggle with so much in this country? Good questions that I’m sure occur to more than a few during the month of February which is National Black History Month. And while these may be valid questions I wonder if they’re a bit misplaced. For those who see concentrating on the history of one specific group to the exclusion of others it might be more prudent to ask questions like the following: How can we best integrate the history of black Americans into our national history? Why is it that we seem to so easily pass over the contributions black Americans have made to the life of this country? Couldn’t we do a better job of uniting the country if we made a conscious effort to include the history of African-Americans whenever we taught or discussed the founding, building and progress of America?
Before we tackle these issues however let’s begin with a more basic question. What purpose does the observation and reflection of history serve in the first place? For example what difference does it make to me that here in the city of my birth Bishop Richard Allen began the first black led denomination in America? For one I am not a Methodist and never have been. Furthermore, there really doesn’t seem to be a direct connection with the events of 1793 and what’s happening with me today. And yet we know that that is a short-sighted way to view the past, present and future. In fact one could make the argument that a large part of the challenges African-Americans face today are connected with the way far too many of us view the history we made yesterday.
Why should we view the importance of history in general and of black history in particular.
History is important not merely because it tells of the dates and escapades of famous people in turbulent times, but because it’s a window into how people much like us faced up to and dealt with many of the same struggles and issues that challenge us today. History can help to explain how we’ve arrived at this point in time faced with the current set of issues we grapple with now. History can also speak to the important aspects of our humanity. A good, clear account of history can assist us as we work through the macro questions of who we are, what our purpose is, where we’re going and what is our destiny.
Studying and reflecting on black history along with the history of other ethnic groups will teach us of the lengths African-Americans and others took to be viewed as full Americans by this country. Each invention, work of art, scientific discovery, foray into politics, activity in foreign wars and act of athleticism was a way of shouting to our nation that though we were brought here against our will, it was not our will to remain separate or segregated from this country. Knowing this could prove quite beneficial to those Americans who question or wonder what place African-Americans have played and can play in the building and progress of this country. It could also help them to see that black history did not begin and end with slavery. Additionally it will teach them to see that America is what it is because of the valuable contributions of those who came here via slave ships and immigrant ships. Knowing this can help us to view those who are here as potential assets and not liabilities.
For black folks studying our history and participation in America puts us face to face with the reality that though times may be hard now they were indeed much more difficult in times past. We can learn that our people battled racism on several fronts and in a myriad of ways. Learning our history will teach us the value of struggle, education, respect, creativity, hope and reliance on God. Reviewing our history will remind us of our common humanity and that no amount of racism or brutality can stamp that out. One more thing about observing our story. Looking back in order to look forward should make us sensitive of the responsibility to advocate for others. Our press for justice cannot end once we’ve secured the right to our slice of pie at Denny’s.
Finally, we investigate and observe our history to see the imprint of God’s sovereignty on the lives of our people. In this way we should view our story redemptively. We should tell one another and teach our children that the point of black history isn’t confined to the struggle for economic and social equality with the dominant culture. That is far, far to short a goal and small a purpose for people created in God’s image. If the end of our struggle is a 2500 square foot four bedroom, two and half bath, two car garage in the suburbs then our struggle and view of history is a dismal failure. We repeat the song of our story to remind ourselves that it’s just one more verse in the tale of His story. Where will that story end? For many of us it won’t. It will simply enter into a new chapter when we along with all of our other brothers and sisters surround the throne of the author and finisher of our faith, life and history Jesus Christ.
To Him Who Loves Us…