Black History Month about human rights

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Why do we still celebrate Black History Month?

It is a question that arises every February. Instead of asking why we celebrate Black History Month we should ask, what should Black History Month teach us?

Black History Month often revolves around slavery. Since slavery was not extensive in Canada, especially in comparison to the slavery practices of the U.S., many Canadians ponder the need for designating a whole month to recognizing black history.

The abolishment of slavery is a frequently used argument against the celebration of Black History Month. Some argue that it is time black people look to the future, that dwelling on past abuses does more to damage the progress of the black community, and advancement can only occur by choosing to recognize the positive contributions and successes of blacks.

Another argument is that giving blacks a special month to be recognized as theirs would mean that every other minority group is entitled to their unique time of acknowledgment.

Oscar-winning actor Morgan Freeman declared Black History Month “ridiculous.” Freeman does not believe recognizing black history is ridiculous, but rather that relegating the history of blacks to one month of the year is ridiculous, as “black history is American history.”

Remembering atrocities of the past does not necessarily represent a lack of progress. Rather, it allows us to examine the details of what happened in the hope we can prevent it from reoccurring.

Slavery was abolished and, as a society, we want to believe that we have learned our lessons from that tragedy. We want to believe that our society respects human rights, ensures civil rights and that we are against all forms of discrimination.

We are still not applying the lessons we should have learned from slavery. Fundamentally, slavery is a grotesque violation of basic human rights " rights to all human beings regardless of race, religion, class, sex and citizenship.

We allow a lower standard of rights for Aboriginals and migrant workers. We fail to actively seek out and prevent the human trafficking of people into our country to be exploited in the sex trades. Our governments hesitate to protect people who lack the power to protect themselves when faced with genocide.

Have we really learned our lesson? Or do we continue to turn a blind eye to pain we choose not to see and anguish we choose not to hear? Are we allowing history to repeat itself?

In observing Black History Month we must realize it is here to guide us into a brighter future by reminding us of a darker past, by embodying a period in our history in which we failed to practise basic human rights.

February represents not only the history of a people that suffered under slavery and colonization, but it can remind us of the “black” marks that scar human history; a month to look back at atrocities and recognize that, whether it be the slavery of Africans, the abuse and exploitation of the Natives, the Holocaust, the genocide in Rwanda, Kosovo or Armenia, the sex trade or child exploitation, realize we must expect and protect the human rights of all.

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