Jaquandor, who continues to be western New York’s finest blogger, wrote, even before I asked him to Ask Roger Anything:
May I ask, what’s YOUR response to the question that ALWAYS gets asked in February? I’m referring, of course, to “How come there’s no WHITE History Month?” Anymore I just snort and say “That’s all the other ones. We just don’t announce it.” Problem with that response is, it doesn’t always get taken as the sarcasm it is.
I really hate hearing that question, with its pouty tone and its implication that racism is over and we need to just stop talking about it.
Let me tell you some of the things we talked about at my church in late January and February:
Education- A married couple, church members, and retired school principals Rose and James Jackson, talked about “Educating all of our children: The Albany Promise,” which is a cradle-to-career partnership introduced by SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher; James is currently a New York State Regent.
In the course of the conversation, the Jacksons noted that there were interracial public schools in the city of Albany, where previously blacks were educated in segregated schools, with black teachers. At the same time, the black teachers were excluded from the new schools. After a legal challenge, black teachers were allowed. But the result is that many private schools – Catholic and otherwise – rose up in the city. The segregation of public schools in the city long predated the “white flight” segregation of other urban areas. So the problems NOW in Albany schools have a largely unknown historic basis from 140 years earlier.
The environment – Activist Aaron Mair spoke on Building Health Advocacy Capacity in Environmental Justice Communities: A.N.S.W.E.R.S. Community Survival Project. He told how the primarily black Arbor Hill section of Albany became the dumping ground, literally, of the Capital District’s waste until the community responded in the last couple of decades; recent history. But Arbor Hill is not an isolated example; NIMBY often means dumping stuff in someone ELSE’S backyard, those with less political and economic power.
Racial designations – as I noted before, the very changeable definition of race was not determined by black people but by the Census Bureau and social scientists of the past. Some may not realize that it’s difficult for many African Americans to trace their ancestry before 1870, “when the federal census first recorded all black people by first and last names. Before this, only free people of color were listed by name in the censuses, except for a few counties that listed slaves by first and last names in the 1850 and 1860 censuses. However…there’s a wealth of information on black people kept by the federal government for the years immediately following the Civil War.” Again, a historical issue affecting the current day.
Justice – pretty much what I wrote about a couple of days ago, where race is STILL a major determinant as to who gets incarcerated and executed. I noted last year the book and video Slavery by Another Name, whereby black people were incarcerated on trumped-up charges so they can work in the factories and the towns could make money leasing them out. I’ve read that the current private contractor prison system that exists in some states works best financially at near-maximum capacity, so one has to wonder if selective enforcement is taking place in those locales. Not that black people are the only victims of America’s tiered justice system, and do NYC cops have arrest quotas?
In each case, I wanted to have a historical perspective on current issues. And with so much blather out there, that’s vitally important. Some yahoo just recently, as in March 2013, suggested at CPAC that slavery was defensible because slave owners provided ‘food and shelter’. That slaveholders fed their investment, their source of labor, is true, of course, but its application a distortion of the institution’s injustice and brutality.
When others suggest that slavery could have been prevented if blacks had guns, that might literally have a soupcon of accuracy amid its absurdity. BUT the US government had long conspired to keep guns OUT of the hands of blacks; in fact, as I’ve noted, the Second Amendment was ratified to preserve slavery. One can’t recognize that we are experiencing The New Jim Crow – title of Michele Alexander’s important book – if one is unfamiliar with the old Jim Crow.
The yahoos might even be on the Supreme Court. The racism deniers such as Antonin Scalia likened congressional renewal of the Voting Rights Act to a “perpetuation of racial entitlement,” as Rachel Maddow noted on the Daily Show; I cannot recall a statement by such an important citizen so lacking in historical understanding. I mean, generations of people died in this country trying to vote; what “racial entitlement” is he’s talking about? And the notion that the United States has “moved past” its history of racial discrimination has been disproven repeatedly by the attempts to disenfranchise not only blacks but Hispanics and the poor.
If the Mormon church rewrites its racist history, and you don’t know the racist history of the Mormon church, you could believe the revisionist narrative.
When I wrote about film and race, it created an interesting dialogue with SamuraiFrog over that very disturbing segment of the movie Holiday Inn and other issues. Not incidentally, as a direct result of my post, someone has sent me a copy of Song of the South, which I haven’t watched yet.
We still need Black History Month because we still are learning about, and attempting to rectify, discrimination. Racism is NOT over; it has morphed into more devious manifestations.
So in answer to your specific question, there’s no White History Month because, as you suggest, much of American history has covered that area, while much of black history, beyond George Washington Carver, Martin Luther King, and a relatively few others, remains hidden. Moreover, the United States is peculiar about race. I wish the country had had the reconciliation conversation South Africa engaged in after the end of apartheid.