MADELEINE BRAND, host:
This is Day to Day. I'm Madeleine Brand. It is Black History Month, and there are celebrations throughout February at elementary schools, libraries, even at Wal-Mart.
(Soundbite of Wal-Mart advertisement)
(Soundbite of music)
Unidentified Announcer: Sometimes we forget freedom came at a price. Sometimes we forget equal wasn't always equal. Wal-Mart is proud to celebrate Black History Month by recognizing and remembering people and events that helped to make all of us who we are today.
BRAND: OK, you may have seen ads everywhere tying products to Black History Month. Well, some argue that the celebration has lost the spirit it had when it was first created as Black History Week more than 80 years ago. Others say black history should never be segregated into just one month. Well, in a recent article for the online magazine The Root, Michael Ross looks at the arguments for ending Black History Month entirely, and he joins me now. So, ending Black History Month entirely, who's saying that?
Mr. MICHAEL ROSS (Contributor, TheRoot.com): Well, there's been, I guess you could call it, a groundswell of opinion that has been bubbling out there about this for some time; probably most visibly was the actor Morgan Freeman, who at the end of 2005, I think, had an interview with "60 Minutes," in which he essentially said it was a problem from the standpoint of how it tended to separate black history from American history in the aggregate.
BRAND: I think we do have a clip from that interview, and let's hear it.
(Soundbite of TV show "60 Minutes")
Mr. MIKE WALLACE (Correspondent, "60 Minutes"): Black History Month you find...
Mr. MORGAN FREEMAN (Actor): Ridiculous.
Mr. WALLACE: Why?
Mr. FREEMAN: You're going to relegate my history to a month? I don't want a Black History Month. Black history is American history.
BRAND: So, is the argument - can it be boiled down to the idea that by having a Black History Month, you're not equating or giving importance to black history because you're not integrating it?
Mr. ROSS: I think the thinking is that by focusing so completely on Black History Month, you've implicitly given the nation permission to ignore black history for the remaining 11 months of the year.
BRAND: Well, I guess, some people who argue in favor of keeping Black History Month would argue, well, at least we have a month, because if didn't we have a month, there would be nothing.
Mr. ROSS: I'm not so sure that that would be accurate today. I mean, perhaps in 1926, when Carter G. Woodson created what would become Black History Month that might have been true then. Blacks were more physically endangered, and black contributions to society were more easily disregarded than they are today.
BRAND: Well, I'm wondering, though, what's the harm, I guess, you know?
(Soundbite of love)
BRAND: I mean, why not just have Black History Month, and sure, perhaps a lot of people won't pay much attention to it, but some will, and so, what's wrong with having it?
Mr. ROSS: Well, you know, from the perspective of those that would seek to phase it out, I think their feeling is that, well, there's no harm in it. It prolongs a sense of cliquishness, a sense of, you know, separating one group from another group from another group from another group, which seems counter-inclusive. It's seen, perhaps, as being a defensive sort of way of saying, oh, yeah? Well, we'll show you; we've got our own month.
BRAND: I wonder, though, if supporters of Black History Month, they're not looking at it as an in-your-face kind of thing, you know, we're going to have our own month, but more of a celebration of, hey, you know, we are different, and we should be proud of that, and we should celebrate it and show everyone how great it is to be African-American.
Mr. ROSS: Yeah. I guess the question about that is, is that a segregate-able sentiment? I mean, is that something that can only be felt and observed a single month of the year?
BRAND: And do you think that having a black president will hasten the demise of Black History Month?
Mr. ROSS: I think the sense of inclusion his election represents goes a long way to speak to the kind of inclusion that history months of one kind or another were purportedly meant to communicate. So, I think a lot of the emotional power for holidays like that is undercut by the fact of a President Obama.
BRAND: Well, dare I say, happy Black History Month?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. ROSS: Oh, it's fine. You know, I thank you.
(Soundbite of love)
Mr. ROSS: You have a happy Black History Month as well, and...
BRAND: Thank you. Michael Ross is a freelance writer in Seattle. His article on Black History Month appeared recently in the online magazine The Root. Michael, thank you.
Mr. ROSS: Thank you.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.