By Jim Lee
This is the first Sunday of Black History Month.
This observance means more than simply giving black people an occasion to point to contributions that were so long ignored or denied.
Black History Month provides the opportunity for all Americans to express appreciation of the contributions of Americans who happen to be black. After all, we are all Americans first, then members of whatever microculture(s) in which each of us happens to be categorized. Microculture means race, nationality, religion, or other ancestral or cultural identification within the overall American experience.
Our nation is a vast multicolored quilt of immigrants. Every person here can identify with one or more microcultures, but in spite of the hyphenated labels, we are first and foremost simply Americans. Consequently, the achievements of any individual in this nation, regardless of his/her microculture, are also the achievements of an American.
So, as Americans we can all embrace the accomplishments of any one of us.
Some of us have had a more difficult time in becoming accepted because of the microculture to which we have been linked, voluntarily or otherwise.
Often the contributions and triumphs of particularly outstanding individuals within these microcultures have been overlooked or lied about because of ignorance, malice and irrational fear. When this occurs, special recognition becomes necessary out of fairness, accuracy, and pride in our fellow Americans.
This brings up the necessity of observances such as Black History Month.
During Black History Month we should all take note of the contributions of black Americans to the macroculture (all the American microcultures put together as a unified whole), but we should be careful to do so as a matter of inclusion, not as a matter of setting anyone apart. We all benefit from the contributions of everyone else.
Contributions of black Americans went unrecognized many, many years. Hopefully, we have all learned a lesson from that. So designating February (or any month) as Black History Month seems the correct and honorable thing to do.
Yes, other microcultures have contributed, but they didn’t get the back of the bus in return.
It seems every microculture in this nation’s history had to pay its dues, beginning with American Indians and continuing with immigrants who did not come from northwestern Europe, usually those with darker skin or non-Protestant (especially non-Christian) religious beliefs and traditions. All these groups paid, and paid dearly, for admission into the Great American Experiment.
Eventually, through hard work and perseverance, they became accepted and wove their threads into the American fabric. But they didn’t have to live in chains. They weren’t bought and sold like soy beans in the commodities market or auctioned off like cattle.
On top of rising above all that, black Americans, who have been regarded as human beings instead of property for less than 140 years, have been able to give all Americans the benefit of their talents, intelligence, and effort.
Frankly, had I gone through all that, I’m not certain I would care very much about contributing to this society — thank goodness so many black Americans had more character than I.
Black History Month is more than something on a calendar. It’s more than a thank you or an apology. It’s a chance to honor some great fellow Americans.
Jim Lee is news director for KENW-FM radio. He also is an English instructor. He can be contacted at 359-2204. His e-mail: