Too Little Knowledge Is a Dangerous Thing

“Now’s the time to end Black History Month.”

“End Black History Month? I Beg to Differ.”

The first headline is from Detroit Free Press columnist Rochelle Riley; the second from Madison J. Gray of the Associated Press.

Riley opines, “For the first time in American history, this country has reached a point where we can stop celebrating separately, stop learning separately, stop being American separately.”

Gray counters, “Who’s celebrating separately?”—pointing out that others than the immediately involved join in Cinco de Mayo, St. Patrick’s Day, and others ceremonies.

I can understand Riley’s point, but I tend to agree with Gray.

Acknowledging the trials and triumphs of a given group doesn’t require segregation of cultures and ethnicities, but rather an understanding and acceptance of what a given group brings to the table.

Barack Obama is not just our first black President. He is our first (openly) mixed-race President. I believe this fact is one of his strengths—that he is equipped to see other points of view, more willing to discuss than remain intransigent. If he should stumble, it will not be because he is a black man, but because he is a man—a human.

We get to know others one person at a time. It is through specific knowledge of individuals that one’s fear of a group is demystified, allowing understanding and acceptance to emerge.

Therefore, let us continue to learn about people like black physician Charles Richard Drew (1904-1950), who, by discovering that blood plasma kept longer than whole blood, helped establish the first blood banks in 1939, saving many in the European Allied Forces during World War II.

In fact, let’s consider learning more about history—period. History classes need to present black history, but also should delve more deeply into many other groups: the fate of Chinese immigrants after the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882; the valor of the Japanese-American 442nd Regimental Combat Team in World War II; and the treatment, unexpurgated, of indigenous Native Americans. We need school curricula to address accurately the trials faced by the waves of the Irish, Italians, Jews, Hmong, and Somalis coming to these shores—the myriad threads making up the tapestry that is these United States.

“United”—not “homogenized”—should be our goal. A rich stew with blended but identifiable ingredients is preferable to a “melting pot,” where every spice and nugget of meat is rendered down to an indistinguishable, unpalatable slurry.

Too often stated—or perhaps not stated often enough—is George Santayana’s warning that if we don’t learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it.

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