This video is just over two years old, but I came across it yesterday while looking for other stuff, clicked on it because of the obviously sensationalistic title, and watched it. You might want to take a moment and do the same:
I don’t want to vilify this girl, as the point she is making is an understandable one. Why not just erase all differences and just see each other as people? If we want everyone to be treated equally, why do we have to emphasize our differences through things like Black History Month, or Women’s History Month, or Hispanic Heritage Month? I was a lot like this girl when I was in high school. I remember applying for colleges and not wanting to specify on my applications that I was Puerto Rican, because it was important to me to get in based on merit, not because they needed to fill some kind of quota. I remember not wanting to stand out as different then, because I thought that my difference was the symptom of a problem. That if people saw me as different, I must be doing something wrong.
When the fact of the matter is, differences exist.
The girl who made this video is two years older now, and I wonder how she feels about the issue today. (I’m trying to ignore the sinking feeling that the only reason she posted the video in the first place was to be controversial and up the clicks on her YouTube page. I’m trying not to be that cynical.) The video seems indicative of a naive, yet understandable phase in a person’s life. Naive, ignorant, and wrong.
The thing is, and what I didn’t understand when I was in high school, is that the reason why these holidays exist and laws like Affirmative Action exist, is because the effects of racism are still felt to this day. The effects of slavery are still felt to this day. The effects of Europeans coming here and pushing Native Americans off their land (or going to Puerto Rico to push native Tainos off theirs), are still being felt to this day. It’s the “price we pay” for living in a country born of disparate peoples being shoved together that we have to acknowledge difference. We don’t have the luxury of ignoring it the way more homogeneous places do.
But that’s the very reason that these differences should not only be acknowledged, but celebrated. Because these differences make this country what it is. And because people, being what they are, get distracted very easily, and we need celebrations like Black History Month to remind us that yes, this country is great because we were born out of difference and we would be nothing without the contributions of each and every ethnic group that calls it home. We also need them to remind us of the times when we were at our worst – slavery, Jim Crow laws, segregation, and the racism that lingers today – so we don’t go back to those places ever again; so that we see how bad things can get if we’re not careful. We need to be students of history. Always.
And that, ultimately, is the problem this girl has, most kids have, and sadly many adults have. She has no sense of history, or any real knowledge of what it means. She only knows right now. The thing is, Right Now is affected by Back Then, and we need to know that and not be so controlled by our On Demand/internet/now, now, now mentality that we forget that there was another way once.
To quote Battlestar Galactica, “This has all happened before, and it will all happen again…” But it doesn’t have to. Not if we are careful. Not if we live deliberately, rather than just being pushed along by life. We can change the world, but how do we expect to do that if we forget what we’re changing it from?
So, Happy Black History Month! Celebrate by looking into the Black achievers in whatever your field of interest is. For example, I plan on seeking out Black writers of sci-fi and fantasy this month – might even share them here with you if you’re nice. And I’ll leave you with this video – a poem by Julian Curry. It’s another old video, but no less timely: