The arrival of Black History Month usually brings with it critiques and arguments from both Blacks and Whites on whether or not we should celebrate Black history this way. On one hand, there are those who think it is racist to focus any period of time on a single race. Then there are others who support teaching Black history, but that limiting this teaching to a month—and the shortest month at that—indicates that Black history isn’t worth talking about at other times. Another group believes that Black history shouldn’t be separated from White history—shouldn’t it be American history?
It appears there is little hope for consensus, especially when some of these arguments are equally strong and legitimate.
But maybe it’s not about consensus at all. Maybe it’s about being gracious, and believing the other has the best intentions to honor and acknowledge that the economic prosperity we have enjoyed in the United States was built on the “free” labor of a group of people forcibly removed from their homes, their families, and the life they once knew.
Maybe it’s acknowledging that we can never assume to understand what another has experienced, and that instead of pretending we can do the impossible, we listen. We listen to the stories, the personal and collective. We listen to the emotions, the pain and anger and shame and courage built into those stories.
And then we act. We act to challenge and change the social practices and systems left over from decades of a brutal practice now integrated into the very fabric of our society.
In this there can be consensus. I see it on the faces of those participating in our working groups. I see it in the willingness of these very busy people as they gather together to consider the possibilities of changing what often seems to be unchangeable.
And I know these groups will do more than talk: they will take whatever action they can in whatever time it might take. They will not change the entire world, but they will change the world for some. And in the very act of changing the world for some, they will change their world.
This is the side I am joining. I hope you will, too.