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Jerry Davich: Is Black History Month still necessary?

ShaunnFinley | Provided photo~Sun-Times Media

Shaunna Finley | Provided photo~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: March 16, 2013 6:15AM



It started as Negro History Week in 1926 and, a half century later, became Black History Month. What’s next? Black History Year?

I kid, of course, but I’ve heard such statements from critics of Black History Month, which has been a part of my life since my high school days. Back then, I joked how it figures the shortest month of the year was designated for such national recognition.

More seriously, I’ve since heard dozens of white people quip to each other: “Why isn’t there a White History Month?” Such sentiment isn’t the norm, but it’s not uncommon either.

So, the question begs: Is Black History Month still necessary in our United States of Ambiguity? Does it still serve a relevant purpose?

Critics say no. It’s long past its expiration date. It’s simply no longer needed. We get it, they say, blacks have an important history, too. Now let’s all be Americans, OK?

Supporters say the uphill, against-the-wind struggle for racial equality is still in the early stages, and more work is needed. Black History Month is an annual reminder of this, they insist.

“The struggle still exists,” said Shaunna Finley, of Portage. “We haven’t overcome yet, and sometimes I think there are people who think we have so. This bothers me.”

Finley, a business teacher at New Vistas Charter School, says it saddens her to hear students say they learn little about African-American history in their school studies.

“The Civil Rights Act of 1964 not only impacted African-Americans,” she said.

At that time, it may have seemed that only blacks benefited from the new laws.

“But let’s bring this discussion to 2013,” she said. “We have immigration laws on the table. We have gay marriage as a part of this era, equal housing for everyone, no matter the level of poverty, equal opportunities for women, and so on.”

“All of the laws that impact all of the above used the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as a base for their right to argue,” noted Finley, a board member of the Porter County Community Foundation and Portage Economic Development Corp.

“We teach our sons at home because we don’t want them to forget,” she added.

Is there racial equality?

Last month, Finley began a personal crusade to persuade her city to acknowledge Martin Luther King Jr. Day formally.

“It bothers me and others who live in this community that we don’t acknowledge this day,” she wrote to city and school officials. “I have lived here since 2001, and we still have issues related to race. I am not saying this would resolve anything, but leadership starts at the top and it is time for our leaders to acknowledge that Portage is a city that accepts and acknowledges everyone.”

She later told me, “It not only impacts African-Americans, but it impacts everyone,” regarding MLK Day.

Again, this is a tough sell to critics of that “national holiday,” as well as of Black History Month, which is why I wanted to write about this issue.

Take, for instance, this response I received from a reader regarding this issue and the NAACP.

“I honestly believe bias and prejudice exists within all races,” she said. “But I do believe the NAACP is now unnecessary since all races and creeds have access to numerous programs once available only to whites.”

“Can I, as a white woman, benefit from the NAACP? I doubt it, so isn’t that racism?” she asked.

Generally speaking, many whites I know are convinced that racial equality has been established, if not unfairly entrenched, in our society. What more do blacks want, they ask in disgust.

This is what our country is up against — our perception versus their reality, and vice versa. This is why, I say, Black History Month is still needed.

At the very least, to foster a needed conversation about a topic that, on the surface, appears to be black and white. However, as we know, it’s instead painted in the hushed hues of gray.

Agree? Disagree? Contact me or call in to my radio show between noon and 1 p.m. Friday on 89.1-FM, at 769-9577. I will be addressing this issue, among others.

On a related note ...

Ivan and Linda Anderson, of Gary, are among dozens of other Post-Tribune readers who have contacted me regarding the gun violence issue in this country.

They believe the best solution to curb gun-related attacks, injuries and deaths is to restrict access to bullets. They are not alone in this thinking, though I doubt it would curb the trend of trigger-friendly violence.

It will take more than ammunition restriction, which could possibly create yet another underground black market for criminals, this one for bullets.

No, I think it will take something more startling, more unfathomable and more gasp-inducing to prompt real change in a nation that proudly equates freedom with firearms.

Dare I say, but it will take more mass shootings such as the one in Newtown for our outraged citizens and pressured lawmakers to address this issue seriously.

Let me be clear. I’m not talking about the staggering numbers of black-on-black, inner-city deaths attributed to guns, such as in Chicago. It’s obvious that a disproportionate number of gun-related shootings and killings involve young African-American men.

America doesn’t blink or pay much attention. They just yawn or turn the TV channel.

No, I’m talking about mass shootings involving young white kids, such as what took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

I know it sounds ghastly to write such a thing, but what else would force our handgun-happy culture, and all those heavily-lobbied lawmakers, to face the grim reality of the situation?

We have a seemingly endless arsenal of guns, bullets and rationalizations. But common sense? Our chamber appears empty.

Find more of Jerry’s writings on Facebook, Twitter, Linked-In, and jerrydavich.wordpress.com.



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