When voters elected our first African-American president, it was an exhilarating and emotional moment for black Americans and others concerned about race in our country. Almost before we could savor that moment, however, pundits began speculating whether we had entered a new “post-racial” era in American life, a time when racism has been magically washed away with that single act of electing a president with African roots.
While the election of President Obama continues to have deep symbolic significance, and could not have happened without evolving and improving views on race in our country, it is important that we keep it in proper perspective, as just another positive step forward on the path of African Americans’ history; it did not erase the fact that nearly 300 years of slavery remains at the start of that path. We black Americans understand that, though many of our countrymen do not.
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Each year around this time, we hear someone in the media question the need for specially calling out black history, followed, inevitably, with the question, “Why isn’t there a White History Month?” It continues to be our responsibility to calmly try to explain to those who don’t share our experience why Black History Month is still important. It’s a discussion that likely begins with an explanation that “White History Month” is a never-ending celebration so overwhelming that it has the effect of relegating non-white history and achievement to the status of margin notes. White history is still so dominant in American culture that other racial and ethnic groups have to be especially assertive in order to have their histories be told and heard.
That is why Black History Month still matters, even today with a black president finishing his second term in office. It creates a space for a full exploration of a people’s rich – and, yes, painful – history that otherwise might be pushed largely out of sight and out of mind. It reminds all Americans that slavery remains a vitally important part of our story, but that black Americans are also so much more than just descendants of slaves. And while it separates us out for special recognition of our past, it also helps ensure that African Americans are included as a highly visible and beautiful part of the wonderful mosaic that makes up our country.
Dr. Judy White,
President of the California Association of African American Superintendents and Administrators
Dr. Judy D. White is superintendent of Moreno Valley Unified School District, the third largest school district in Riverside County and 23rd largest in California, educating 34,000 students in grades TK-12 at 40 schools. MVUSD’s graduation rate exceeds both the state and national averages.