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2 Jan, 2020 15:26

Should white abolitionists be honored during Black History Month? How a conciliatory celebration became another culture war

Should white abolitionists be honored during Black History Month? How a conciliatory celebration became another culture war

US politicians are again using Black History Month as a chance to score points with their bases – a pattern we will see over and over during what is sure to be one of the most divisive years in the country’s history.

Wisconsin has become something of a yearly battleground between Democrats and Republicans about who should be remembered during the annual February commemoration, and who should be allowed to decide.

Republican state assembly representative Scott Allen submitted a resolution in which he plans to honor six white abolitionists among the ten people from the northern border state singled out for remembrance. 

Allen claims the move is to draw more white people into the celebrations, while his critics slam the idea that a white man is in a position to decide who gets to be remembered during a holiday dedicated to remedying the injustice of black oppression at the hands of pale-skinned slave owners.

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Allen’s implication, that honoring white people is the only way to bring them into the fold, comes across as disingenuous and can easily be seen by African-Americans as a further racist attack of their history.

At the same time, those who argue that whites have no place are just as exclusionary as those they point their fingers at.

Democrat State Senator Lena Taylor not only compared Allen’s actions to those of slave owners, she then wrote an op-ed criticizing him for refusing to back her legislative efforts to address “racial disparity.” Taylor’s characterization of events was to portray Allen, who is married to a black woman, as a racist at worst and racially insensitive at best. 

This is a bad-faith argument verging on a smear.

Just as Allen’s decision to put forward a majority-white list was a deliberate provocation designed to evoke exactly this kind of outraged response.

It’s not only that America’s politicians are more divided than ever in their outlook. It is also that being nonpartisan no longer pays politically.

Compromise does not equal career advancement. 

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Instead, any cause, from the impeachment to climate change to Black History Month, is a political battleground where the shock troops are the headlines.

The Republican Gerald Ford, himself perhaps the most white-bread president of the last century, rose above his political allegiances, when he elevated Black History Month to the status of an official national event in 1976 (incidentally making a mockery of Taylor’s claim to exclusive black ownership of the commemoration). One wonders if Ford would have the political leverage of such a gesture if he were in his post today.

Surely both Allen and Taylor are no less aware than Ford, a man born in 1913, of the importance of racial reconciliation in a divided nation. 

Yet they willingly engage in this self-serving pantomime that does nothing to mark the historical suffering in America, nor to cherish the gains that have been made since the Civil Rights Movement.

America has suffered worse discord and oppression, but have its politicians ever been so selfish as they are in 2020?

By Jacob Smith, editor of the libertarian entertainment site Society Reviews.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.