Why would a White History Month be racist when Black History Month is not? Why is a black girl adorned in a “Black Girls Rock” t-shirt proud of her heritage while a white girl with a “White Girls Rock” emblazoned across her chest highly offensive? Why does “Black Power!” signify support for equality and social justice but “White Power!” glorify social injustice and inequality?
“Such a double standard!” white conservatives moan. “It smacks of reverse racism!”
It’s almost embarrassing having to explain the logic behind this alleged “double standard” to thinking adults, but someone has to do it. As such white Americans seem so utterly detached from their own country’s history, perhaps a comparative historical analysis would be valuable.
At the risk of violating Godwin’s Law (look it up), let us consider Germany and its Jewish population. American whites who can’t grasp why White History Month would be racist likely understand well why a celebration or commemoration of Jewish contributions and struggle in Germany would be a positive thing, while a celebration of “Aryan” (the so-called “master race”) heritage and history would be gravely insensitive and offensive.
One commemorates the oppressed, the survivors of near-total genocide. The other commemorates the oppressor, the ones operating the gas chambers.
Were it the other way around — had the Jews controlled Germany and began a mass slaughter of white Aryans — it would be a different story. In such a case, a national celebration of Judaism in Germany would be disturbing, divisive, and offensive.
“Ah, but not all Aryans were ‘operating the gas chambers,’ were they?” one may note. “Not all whites lynched or owned black men, women, and children, or supported Jim Crow laws. And why hold white people today guilty for the crimes of past generations?”
First, it is important to note that racial prejudice, and its dangerous effects, still exist in American society.
Research shows nearly all whites hold subconscious anti-black biases, and a solid majority consciously believe racist myths about blacks — and some are very open about their disdain and bigotry. Whites in simulations are much quicker to shoot both armed and unarmed blacks than whites. Black job applicants with identical resumes as white applicants are still less likely to be called back for an interview, and blacks are less likely to be offered a quality home loan than whites with the same (sometimes worse) qualifications and income levels. Likewise, whites receive better medical care at the same facilities than blacks with identical diagnoses and medical histories.
Blacks are more likely to receive longer prison sentences and the death penalty than whites who commit the same crimes. They are more likely to be pulled over and searched while driving lawfully than whites driving lawfully. Unarmed Americans killed by police are consistently twice as likely to be black than white.
So some whites are indeed “guilty” today. Any other conclusion amounts to nothing more than white denial.
There is no need for a white individual to feel personally guilty about crimes committed by others, whether today or in the past. The only people who should feel guilt are those who consciously hold racist stereotypes about blacks to be true (ideas of black laziness, aggression, deviancy, and so on), discriminate against blacks because of this, or thoughtlessly deny the effects of our racial history (a black person is three times more likely to be poor than a white person, for example, due to history, not laziness special to their race).
“OK, so why would celebrating White History Month be racist, if those things don’t apply to myself nor others like me?”
Perhaps you wouldn’t be personally racist (though you do realize those who actually do celebrate white history and pride with marches, rallies, and billboards, or glorify “White Power,” tend to be in white supremacist groups like the Ku Klux Klan or neo-Nazi organizations). Perhaps it would merely be embarrassingly thoughtless and frightfully callous.
That’s at best, because like the Jews of Germany American blacks are an historically (and to a degree contemporarily) oppressed group. And whites are the historic (and to a degree contemporary) oppressors — against blacks and literally all nonwhites who came to or lived in North America.
There was the savagery of black slavery: kidnapping, hunger, torture, execution, degradation, and rape. After the Civil War, white employers refused to pay blacks the same wages as whites, or hire them for more skilled, higher wage positions; white banks refused to provide home loans to blacks; school districts gerrymandered attendance zones to keep black and white schools distinct; white businesses fled from budding areas of black commerce; white producers charged black stores more for goods.
White residents fled from black neighbors; white real estate agents steered blacks far away from nicer homes in white areas; white city councils, city planners, and developers refused to invest and build in black areas; white voters rejected tax increases that would benefit black schools and neighborhoods; white landlords refused to properly maintain property inhabited by black families; white doctors declined to treat black patients.
Black history was nowhere to be found in standard history textbooks, another good reason for a Black History Month.
White policemen beat and abused blacks merely suspected of committing crimes against whites, but refused to investigate or prosecute black on black crime; white judges and juries handed black criminals longer prison sentences and more frequent executions; white terrorists shot, hung, burned, beat, mutilated and bombed innocent African Americans to keep them out of stores, schools, public facilities, neighborhoods, voting booths, and political positions. Peaceful protesters exercising First Amendment rights were attacked and killed by police and white vigilantes alike. The Black Power movement, which called for self-defense and revolution against an abusive State, using the Second Amendment and Declaration of Independence as justification, was one response to all this barbarism.
Black History Month, and similar expressions of pride, celebrate important breakthroughs in the fight against white hatred and savagery. Whites today should celebrate important people and events in black history.
Were whites the historically oppressed group, had blacks enslaved and persecuted whites for centuries, White History Month would be understandable, appropriate, and something positive in modern society. But that is not our history, is it?
All this has a clear moral component. Morality concerns what causes harm to others; it’s about treating people with kindness and respect. Because of our history (and modern relations), white pride causes significantly more harm (psychologically, emotionally, even physically) to persons of color than black pride causes to white people.
You shouldn’t oppose celebrating white history, white power, and the white race because you feel personally guilty about the crimes against humanity committed by others. You oppose it because caring, compassionate, and wise people don’t celebrate the historically oppressive race of a society — even if it’s yours. They celebrate those who struggled against all odds. They celebrate the survivors. They stand in solidarity with the oppressed.
In other words, you should be fine with Black History Month, “Black Girls Rock!” t-shirts, or “Black Power!” declarations, and laugh at accusations of double standards and reverse racism, for two simple reasons:
Because you know your history and because you are a decent person.