Normally, I would say that Fox News deserves every ounce of my rage every hour on the hour. However one correspondent, Stacey Dash, has made some comments that probably deserve it every minute…
Due to some rather public outrage on the campus of Austin Peay State University back in 2007, I’m rather familiar with the idea of ending black history month or another traditionally black led institution. The article in question used an interview by Morgan Freeman to support the idea that black history month was no longer needed. Back in 2005, Freeman famously said that he didn’t want a Black History Month. Interviewed by Mike Wallace on 60 Minutes, he didn’t want black history relegated to only one month. In the same interview, he said one way to start ending racism would be to simply stop relating to one another by the color of our skin. Most people thought she had taken the article out of context. Because of that, it was the major topic on campus for a long time because of how ludicrous everyone thought it was. At the time, I agreed with them since I thought it was silly as well.
Fast forward to 2015, and now I happen to agree with Freeman quite a bit. However, I realize in practice how problematic this concept is. Black traditions, such as black colleges, fraternities, magazines, TV networks were all created in response to something. It wasn’t done because people wanted to be different. They were created because we had no where else to go. Negro leagues were generated so black baseball players could have a chance to play in a time where no one was getting a chance. Colleges and fraternities were created to emulate the white colleges we couldn’t attend. BET, despite how much I dislike today, was launched with the aim of providing more avenues for black television shows, music, etc.
In America, placing the word “black” as a prefix to anything is essentially saying “we couldn’t join this club, team, or institution so we had to make our own”. When we remember that as the basis for so many of these examples, it can make it hard for anyone to let them go. And ideally, some day, while the names may still remain, we can eventually let them go or they will evolve something new. I would love to see a day where BET, Telemundo, and other stations like that could host content that is just as popular as mainstream broadcasting. And even as we become more integrated, I would still expect to see shows that cater to a way of life, and not my skin tone. I enjoy the show Black’ish for many reasons, but the primary one is how closely it relates to my life as a black man in America. Many of the cultural problems Anthony Anderson reacts to on a daily basis mirror my own workplace dynamics to a tee.
I would be against black institutions that would not allow a person of another color into their ranks. If they were built for the reasons I stated above, then we can’t turn around and be prejudice to some one who would want to join us. However, I do understand how uncomfortable this can be. In some ways, after black institutions were established, they also served as a way to have community with like minded people and a shared heritage. It would feel weird to see a white guy up on stage to win an award for best actor at the BET Awards.
This is the double standard that Dash was referring to and was the only accurate thing she said in her comments. And I will be honest, I’m not sure how we as a nation move forward. Integration is important, but it requires buy-in on both sides. The fact that we still have a lack of diversity in the Oscars and awards for BET continue to exist prove we are not quite ready to relinquish such institutions. This is why the majority of Dash’s comments were out of bounds. If she understood or remembered the historical background I’m referencing, I don’t believe she would have worded her comments the same way. Touting Barack Obama as a sign of progress is a major no-no. Sure, it’s a major signal of what you can accomplish, but it hides how wide and deep of a race divide still exists.
Hence the reason I suggest we stop using Morgan Freeman as an example to end black history. It’s an idea that has merit, but it certainly has issues that people love to ignore every time they reference his interview. He’s an optimist and I love that; but we need additional ways to implement this idea in a respectful way that honors the institutions that have been pillars in the black community for years
Simply telling a minority community to stop celebrating their heritage during one month is highly impractical because it fails to acknowledge the problems that still affect their lives every day. It’s like asking someone to do a trust fall when the person asking is 100 yards away. Why would any one ever step backwards into that? You wouldn’t and here’s where we will reside until we figure this out. There’s a solution in the middle there somewhere, but it won’t come from clinging to our old institutions with a death grip. Nor will it come from belittling the people who were excluded from the conversation from the beginning.
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