By Mary Kate Cary, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
I was traveling all day yesterday, and the most intriguing headline I saw on the newsstand was that Attorney General Eric Holder had called the United States a "nation of cowards." Curious, I found his remarks online as soon as I landed here in Texas. Click here to read the whole transcript of his speech, which is actually pretty thoughtful. In it, he questions the value of Black History Month as it exists now, saying we're a nation of cowards who are uncomfortable when it comes to talking about race:
We commemorated five years ago, the 50th anniversary of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision. And though the world in which we now live is fundamentally different than that which existed then, this nation has still not come to grips with its racial past nor has it been willing to contemplate, in a truly meaningful way, the diverse future it is fated to have. To our detriment, this is typical of the way in which this nation deals with issues of race. And so I would suggest that we use February of every year to not only commemorate black history but also to foster a period of dialogue among the races. This is admittedly an artificial device to generate discussion that should come more naturally, but our history is such that we must find ways to force ourselves to confront that which we have become expert at avoiding.
Holder makes the case that American history and black history are so entwined as to make celebrating them separately seem obsolete. Black history is American history, he says, but treating it separately means it's been given unequal treatment by the schools. The contributions of Americans such as Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., and Frederick Douglass shouldn't be treated as a novelty, taught in schools only in February of each year.
Holder is right. It should be part of our everyday lives, our national conversation. Just as President Obama called for Martin Luther King Day to be a day of service this year, maybe it's time to shift the focus of Black History Month.
Despite the "nation of cowards" comment, which seems a little extreme, I think he might be on to something. With so many African-Americans reaching the top levels of business, government, and sports and entertainment over the last decade, maybe it is time for the rest of us to move forward as well.
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