Black History Month in public schools must come to an end

Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2006

During February, which is Black History Month, schools are under enormous pressures to address black culture.

I oppose the very idea of all of these ‘‘history months” in our schools. They are pontifical, supercilious and overbearing braggings that do nothing more than create a sense of ‘‘you owe me” attitudes in children who have opportunities that children in Third World countries can only dream about.

We should show more pride in those who behave morally and decently as human beings rather than in the economic or political accomplishments of those who simply share the same skin color. Yes, certain acknowledgements were required because of the terrible injustices that were committed in the form of harsh laws and the accepted attitudes of hatred and racism toward people, such as my own black ancestors. As slaves and sharecroppers, they helped to build our great country with blood, sweat, pain and tears.

But no month of honoring could ever erase the pain or the injustices of the harsh realities of the past.

No month of reading endless speeches about how Harriet Tubman freed the slaves, or the endless playing of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous speech will wipe away the frothy Southern spit that seared my 12-year-old skin as I walked through the racist halls of a once-segregated all-white school.

No month can ever erase my memories of the KKK with shotguns riding in a pick-up truck behind my school bus to protest federally mandated integration.

However, that is in the past — a past that many blacks in Montgomery County today know little about or can relate to because they comprise many nationalities and have immense cultural differences. For this reason, I feel that Black History Month really does little more than address a skin color, and I find it insulting and offensive — no matter the intention.

To offer a month of black history and assume all blacks share the same cultural values and past because ‘‘we’re all black” is simply ignorant. We don’t even come from the same countries, and Dr. King’s mission wasn’t global. His ‘‘I Have A Dream” speech does not relate to blacks from other countries or most blacks living here today. Yet we continuously play this speech during Black History Month like some sort of homage to all blacks or people of color while ignoring the fact that it was written for blacks in America during the civil rights movement and not the many black people who immigrated here.

It would be like having a White History Month and lumping the Jews, Italians, Poles, Russians, Greeks, Swiss, Lebanese, Kurds, etc., all together. Imagine playing a speech by President Horst Köhler from Germany that would represent all whites during their White History Month.

Has anyone ever thought what it must feel like to be a white student in our public schools where Asians, native Americas, Hispanics and blacks have a month during which their accomplishments are acknowledged? Yet the white student is never acknowledged in the same way. This could either breed resentment and anger, or encourage a superiority sentiment among the white students.

The way it is now offered, this cultural history month notion is simply ridiculous, archaic and must come to an end in our public schools. It is unfair, condescending, and does little to educate our students on cultural awareness.

Parents and communities that desire such a thing should provide it in their communities or homes. It is not possible to address every culture represented in our county in a public school setting, and to leave cultural groups out is just plain wrong, unfair and unjust.

When you do more for one group, which is lumped together because of skin color, than you do for the other groups, you patronize this group. You empower them to feel different. You are saying to them, ‘‘You are different and you need special treatment.”

I beg you not to do this to our public school students. Our students of color need to know they are not different. They do not deserve special treatment. They need the same expectations that you would have of everyone else.

Many of you wonder why black kids cry ‘‘racism” so often when they are addressed about not meeting expectations or given constructive criticisms. Look at the message you send to them in the spirit of embracing their culture. You really do say, ‘‘You are different.” And if you truly believe that we are not different, then you would support my appeal to you to stop the excessive Black History Month activities as presented in our schools.

I can barely tolerate the endless morning announcements every single day during the month on Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King, Booker T. Washington and Oprah, along with the sports heroes and music millionaires at a time when the secretary of state is an incredibly outstanding black woman, and there are more black millionaires and billionaires in the United States of America than there are in anywhere else in the entire world.

In conclusion, it is impossible to erase the memories of injustices and harm caused by foolish people. Racism and intolerances of differences will always exist in every society regardless of mainstream measures to thwart it. Let’s move on and place more emphasis on creating a sense of purpose, common decency, moral and civil responsibility in our children than emphasis on accomplishments based on skin color.

It really is a new day, and we should recognize it soon.

Denise Cherry of Clarksburg has been a teacher for 20 years, most of them in Montgomery County.