Cross Cultural Response

Earlier this week, a few students stopped by my office to express their frustration over the opinion article in the New U called “Black History Month?” They were disappointed that the article was even printed – particularly during the month of February when Black History Month is celebrated and recognized by the Black Student Union, the Cross-Cultural Center and a handful of other organizations and departments across campus. Not having yet read the article, I took time to do so. After finishing, I paused, looked up at them and smiled. They looked puzzled; the smile on my face confused them.

“Aren’t you mad?” they asked.

“Of course I am,” I responded. “But I’m excited, too, because now ‘the door is wide open.’

What do you believe the author is trying to say? Rather, what do you think this person believes about racism? What does she believe about the existence of your organization? What do you think she would say about the mission of the Cross-Cultural Center? As I see it, every one of the answers to these questions gives us a sense of purpose. One of the reasons that the Cross-Cultural Center, and your organization, exist today is because people continue to think the way this person does.”

The students stewed over this thought before replying, “Don’t you think that some of the things that she said are racist? We shouldn’t have to tolerate any racist mentality.”

“No, absolutely not. We shouldn’t have to. But remember, there’s a strong force that has her thinking this way. When did you first start thinking about racism? Probably before you truly understood the word itself, because unfortunately, you are a victim of it. However painful it is for us as victims of the racism that exists in society, we have to face the fact that there are many people who don’t think about it. If and when they do, they rarely understand it right away. I smiled earlier because I believe the author is starting to think about it – and that’s a good thing. I also smiled because, now, her lack of understanding and her ignorance on the subject have been exposed. We already know that there are students on campus like this person that don’t understand the prevalence of racism in our society and its horrific affects on communities of color. And this article is another piece of evidence of that fact. Let’s do what we do here at the Cross-Cultural Center. Let’s help them understand. The ‘door is open.’” I smiled again. They smiled back. I expect that Ms. Guthrie has been and will continue to hear from the students here at the CCC. I hope she’s willing to listen. There’s much to learn, and we don’t have time to wait.

Black History Month at UCI is celebrated as a part of African Consciousness Quarter, a series of events planned by the Black Student Union and co-sponsored by the Cross-Cultural Center and other organizations and departments. Black History Month is an outgrowth of Negro History Week, established by Black historian Carter G. Woodson in 1926. He designated the second week in February to mark the birthdays of both Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. The week was expanded to a month in 1976, as part of the nation’s Bicentennial commemoration. The intent was to feature the racial aspects of our common history.

While this isn’t the first time I’ve heard the argument that sanctioning a racially distinct observation moves Americans away from a common history or that Black History Month is irrelevant because it has degenerated into a shallow ritual, those supposed occurrences are ones of execution – not design. When treated seriously, as it has been at UCI, the monthly observation is truly educational, empowering and exceptional – and can be for everyone, not just the black community on campus. This tradition is not upheld to self-segregate or to sustain the black community as eternal victims, but rather to raise awareness of the issues that persist and haunt a community at risk of sacrificing its place in history. This tradition is critical for the exchange of ideas needed to bring equity and dignity to all people. This tradition is necessary for communities to gather and celebrate accomplishments and greatness, not because of righteous ideals, but rather to honor and recognize the past and present struggles that have been overcome. Without that history, one might never know how to continue making progress.

Kevin Huie is the director of UCI’s Cross-Cultural Center.  He can be reached at khuie@uci.edu.