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Black History Month controversy

The contributions of African Americans to all aspects of American culture, from sports to art to politics and more, is celebrated in February.
Photos provided by Sherwin Techico, the Ballatician, Enokson, The Com Library of Flickr
The contributions of African Americans to all aspects of American culture, from sports to art to politics and more, is celebrated in February.

Black History Month, celebrated in February, is a controversial topic. Some want nothing to do with it or are strongly against it. Others, like Nike, are extremely supportive. Nike specifically designs a Black History Month shoe collection each year.

There are three sides, unless you can think of more. As I see it, there are those who love it, those who hate it, and those who are on the fence.

The ones who hate Black History Month come up with a variety of arguments. Some say “Why should we celebrate Black History Month? There is no White History Month!” Others say devoting one month to a specific race just creates more segregation and bias. Still others say the month should not be celebrated anymore because it is irrelevant now.

The ones who love Black History Month believe it is a great celebration helping to keep heroes in history books and remind people of America’s past. Black History Month dedicates a specific time for Americans to remember the abolition of slavery and to be thankful that we as a nation have come a long way. It is also to commemorate famous black people like Jackie Robinson, Harriet Tubman, Barack Obama, Diana Ross, Michael Jordan and Beyonce Knowles, to name a few.

Carter G. Woodson, an African-American historian, first started Black History Month in 1926. Originally called “Negro History Week,” the event was meant to correct the absence of black experiences in textbooks. In 1976, Negro History Week was expanded to include the entire month of February as Black History Month.

I am not writing to try to persuade anyone from the views they hold on this matter. I simply wish to explain my feelings on this topic.

I grew up in Roseburg thinking that culture and diversity exist in all other cities except Roseburg. I would hear people joke about the black population being 0.3 percent (which was actually not far off according to the 2010 Roseburg census). I never really appreciated, much less understood what the big deal about Black History Month was until I became acquainted with UCC.

I started attending UCC women’s basketball games in 2009, my junior year of high school. Dave Stricklin, the head coach for the women’s team, has always had a knack for recruiting some of the very best basketball players, many who are black.

During spring of 2010 I was invited to come out and play in the open gym scrimmages. This meant playing with and against these black athletes. I was so intimidated because of the stereotypical racist stigma that Roseburg had established in my life.

Through playing basketball, I soon struck up friendships with a couple of the girls: Mykiea Russell, Sparkal Clark and Nneamaka Anyanwu, in particular. I learned a lot from these women. I became immersed in some of their culture and personal traits such as fashion, music and food.

I am now a part of the UCC women’s basketball team which consists of black, white, Filipino and Hawaiian.

On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, our coach paused practice to remind us to listen to King’s “I Have a Dream” speech as well as “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.” From that, a conversation spurred about black heritage and racism.

Kyndal Charleston and Asia Smith both retold a situation that happened in one of their classes that had to do with people making ugly underlying racial comments, some of which they felt were implied toward them.

Our coach explained to the entire team the importance of the out-of-state basketball players coming to Umpqua. For many UCC students, these black players are the first cross-culture acquaintance they may have. My teammates realize it too. It is awesome to see the two groups putting color aside, interacting and creating friendships.

I do not hold a solid side in the popular debate on Black History Month. I am on the fence. I agree with each side to some extent. I feel it is very important to honor the black heroes in history and their accomplishments. However, I am not sure I agree with the establishment of a specific month devoted to glorifying the black race. After all, what about Filipino American History Month or Asian-Pacific Heritage Month?

Pilialoha Kailiawa is from Pahala, Hawaii. She currently plays on my team and her older sister Pua played for Umpqua two years ago. Pua explained to me how education in Hawaii is different from here on the mainland. The mainland tends to skim over Hawaii giving credit to it as a state and listing it in history books for the crisis at Pearl Harbor. The Hawaiian schools teach children about their Hawaiian roots and what Hawaii’s history was like before the United States took it over.

“The mainland doesn’t teach how we got here. They may bring it up in history to say that Captain Cook discovered it, but I don’t even think that is sufficient enough. In Hawaii, you learn Hawaiian history, how Hawaiians struggled through the times that whites discovered and took over our land,” Pua Kailiawa said.

I found this to be extremely interesting and it made me wonder why we don’t learn about this on the mainland. Why don’t we promote these lesser known race-specific heritage months like we do Black History Month? I’d rather just show appreciation for all different races every day, not just one month out of the year.