Editorial: Give all groups attention in all months

Editorial Board

February is Black (or African-American) History Month. This designation dates to Congressional passage of a law in 1986. Since 1926, however, a Negro History or Black History Week has been observed. That designation began with an organization called the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, and in 1975 President Gerald Ford began the observance of Black History Week.

According to the website of African-American History Month, such observance facilitates “paying tribute to the generations of African Americans who struggled with adversity to achieve full citizenship in American society.” The Library of Congress states that African-American History Month “celebrates the contributions that African Americans have made to American history in their struggles for freedom and equality and deepens our understanding of our Nation’s history.”

In keeping with such observance, Iowa State has a student group, The Black History Month Planning Association, that plans and organizes commemorating events. A quick search on the university website shows that, at the Memorial Union, interested students could attend two events

Stating in terms of “Where’s White History Month?” our opposition to the events that recall the racial, social struggle of African Americans in addition to celebrating the advances that we as a society have made in social equality, would give in to petty desires for either a month dedicated to the celebration of each demographic group, or none that minimizes the realities of history.

We can very easily remove discrimination from government. It is a fairly simple matter to write and pass laws requiring public agencies (in the sense that “public” equates to “government”) to act blindly toward minority groups who might have a stigma attached to them. It is another matter entirely to write laws that eradicate the social prejudices founded in popular culture and custom. Without a huge expansion of governmental authority — think of the various Civil Rights Acts in the 1960s — it is impossible to prevent business owners, employers, landlords, banks and others from discriminating in who they serve, hire, lease property to, lend money to, etc. Trying through community organizations to convince people to abandon their deep-seated prejudices also does not get far.

We prefer to observe that the prejudice and achievement that months such as African American History months remember were daily, hourly staples in the lives of affected minorities. The history for which we remember them in February occurred every day. Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King Jr. did not deal with and fight against racism in just one month of the year. It was a daily struggle, and thus became their life’s work.

That daily struggle makes it that much more significant. Racial prejudice still exists, but we cannot for a minute entertain the idea that it approaches the level and effects of such prejudice in the 1960s. Other taboos, too, are falling away. In November 2012, two states legalized possession and use of marijuana, and a steadily increasing number of states have legalized same-sex marriage.

It is that same daily struggle that requires us to recall all the members of society, including the minorities or marginalized groups within it, at all times. History is written by the victors. It does not, however, belong to them. History belongs to all the people who lived it.