Black History Month?

It is irritating how many people today believe that racism will end as long as every American minority has a special day, week, month, club or organization dedicated to them. One such example of a holiday that supposedly helps to eliminate racism is Black History Month, which takes place every February to celebrate the various accomplishments and contributions of African-Americans throughout American history.

Frankly, I don’t even like the term African-American to begin with. First of all, not all blacks are from Africa, and second, “hyphenating” everyone’s racial category in a country that, today, accepts people from all nationalities and backgrounds is a modern-day form of segregation. I wish we could all just be Americans.

This is not to say that I am ignorant of or naïve about racists within our society, but racism no longer characterizes society as a whole. I would argue that focusing on everyone’s ethnic background — American-born or not — in the form of club organizations and holidays is racist because all it seeks to do is give preferential treatment to self-segregating groups whose main purpose is to cry eternal victimhood.

A recent article on this issue, published by Newsweek and written by Raina Kelley, reminds people such as myself of the importance of Black History Month: “[It] is a measure of how fully or accurately our story is being told and a reminder of the work yet to be done.” Kelley argues that “bemoaning” the existence of the month is wasted time that could be spent “[proselytizing]” for issues that need more national attention, such as “failing inner-city public schools, institutionalized poverty, health-care disparities, and job discrimination.”

Kelley does not give concrete modern examples of these ills, nor does she offer a proposal herself on how to fix them. I, for one, do not chalk these issues up to being the fault of the elusive “white man.” I think much of the problem today in the way of racial relations, is with America’s obsession with political correctness. Perhaps these issues are not being addressed because no one feels comfortable enough to say that they are not necessarily the fault of the “white man,” but are also partially the result of personal responsibility — or in this case, a lack thereof. As it is, you probably think I am a racist for delving into this issue to begin with.

To make my point, we have an “African-American” president; other African-Americans in the spotlight are former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, Colin Powell, GOP Chairman Michael Steele, Oprah Winfrey, nationally syndicated talk radio show host Larry Elder and many more. This list doesn’t even begin to encompass the slew of African-American actors, actresses, and singers. What was that about job discrimination? Furthermore, it is a known fact that things like affirmative action give preferential treatment to American minorities. I would go so far to say that universities and companies seek minority candidates for the sake of calling themselves “diverse.”

I agree with Kelley in that there are many issues since slavery still extant in the African-American community, but I do not agree that in today’s world it should all be attributed to the “white man.” While slavery is a scar on American history, its legacy has also opened so many opportunities with an equally powerful political force: The Civil Rights Movement.  The statement that we live in a “culture over-reliant on stereotype and slow to explore the complexity of racial issues” just doesn’t hold true anymore in post-Civil Rights America.

Still, when that movement radicalizes, it undermines itself and creates a familiar divisive rhetoric.  We are all Americans, and we should all be held to an equal standard and judged based on our merit, as opposed to our skin color or ethnic background. While remnants of institutionalized racism have led to our current obsession with diversity and political correctness, Americans must have the freedom to take personal responsibility and to critique others without having the threat of racism hanging over their heads. It is only when this is a real possibility that people of all ethnic backgrounds can engage in a dialogue about solving issues affecting the totality of the American citizenry.

Hanna Guthrie is a second-year English major. She can be reached at hguthrie@uci.edu.