BLANK: Humbled by Our History
Published: Wednesday, February 22, 2012
Updated: Friday, February 24, 2012 00:02
February marks the annual observance of Black History Month in the United States. This is a time for all Americans to reflect on the triumphs, tragedies, struggles and achievements of blacks throughout American history.
The concept of Black History Month has long been controversial. Criticisms have intensified in the wake of Barack Obama's election, with many contending that the month is irrelevant and unnecessary in a supposedly post-racial America.
However, Black History Month is more important now than ever before and should be observed and recognized by all Americans — regardless of their race or ethnicity.
Politicians from Barack Obama to Newt Gingrich have professed their belief in American exceptionalism and have declared the United States to be the greatest nation on earth and a bastion of liberty and democracy.
There is nothing wrong with patriotism and national pride. However, when these notions blind us to historical realities, they must be challenged.
All too often, ideas of American exceptionalism contain romanticized views of the past that serve to whitewash the darker aspects of the nation's history.
Last month, it was reported that Tea Party activists in Tennessee demanded state lawmakers modify school textbooks to downplay the negative aspects of slavery and to promote the allegedly positive economic impact it had on the South.
In 2011, multiple Southern states celebrated the 150th anniversary of the establishment of the Confederacy. And in 2010, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell issued a proclamation honoring April as "Confederate History Month." His proclamation did not contain a single mention of the slavery or racial persecution the Confederacy was built on. He amended it only after he was met with a barrage of criticism from civil rights groups.
There is much to be proud of in American history. In the three greatest moral conflicts of the modern era — the struggles against the totalitarian ideologies of fascism, communism and militant Islamism — the United States has played a pivotal and leading role, saving millions of lives.
However, when confronting one of the greatest moral catastrophes facing our nation domestically — the scourge of racism — our response as a nation has historically been, and continues to be, feeble and weak.
It took too long for a nation committed to the ideals of "all men are created equal," and "liberty and justice for all" to abolish slavery and end racial segregation.
Today, too many Americans remain ignorant and in denial of the racial persecution of the past and the racial persecution that continues now.
When blacks and Hispanics are overrepresented in prisons and among the impoverished, and when they are underrepresented in the U.S. Congress and at elite universities like Georgetown, there can be no denying that racism and its consequences continue to plague our society.
The historical narrative of American exceptionalism seeks to obscure this dark reality.
This is why Black History Month is so important: It serves as a bulwark to challenge these myths of the past and as a reminder to all Americans of our tragic history of racial oppression.
At Georgetown, outside the black community, the attitude toward Black History Month is at best indifferent and at worst derisive.
The truth is, Black History Month is an opportunity for all Americans to reflect on our country's past, present and future. Only by recognizing past and present racial injustice can we as a nation move forward to create a more perfect union like that envisioned by the founders of this country.
Moreover, Black History Month is a story of redemption and hope that all Americans can take pride in.
In the 19th century, abolitionists courageously confronted the institution of slavery, which was supported by the federal government. Only five decades ago, the Civil Rights Movement faced the horrors of Jim Crow laws and the terrorism of state authorities and the Ku Klux Klan. Many doubted we could overcome those obstacles then, yet we did, as a country.
Black History Month gives us hope that we can continue to break down barriers and progress as a nation.
Sam Blank is a senior in the College. IMPERFECT UNION appears every other Friday.