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Black History Month - Awakening the Conscience of America

Celebrating Black History Month
by G. Michael Tzerai, Feb 27, 2013

Slavery - Reflecting Back to the Birth of our Nation

ShacklesThe United States was born out of the desire for freedom and justice. From the old world, people came here and won their freedom from colonial rule – from Great Britain.  From a realization that they did not want to be like the "old Europe" was born a constitution that was revolutionary in its own time and that is unique because it has survived over 300 years.

What the leaders of our country didn't address was the issue of slavery.  Paramount to the tasks at hand were more pressing issues:  holding the union together, identifying what type of union and crafting a language for the constitution that could be handed to future generations.

The question of slavery had to wait one hundred years. Its answer nearly killed the union. The American Civil War was probably the most expensive war per capita, in the loss of lives and in the destruction of property.  The country nearly went broke with this war.

Slavery ended with the Emancipation Proclamation spoken by President Lincoln but it didn't quite end well.  It persisted in many ways until the question was again revisited another one hundred years later with the explosion of the Civil Rights Movement which helped make this country a little bit more caring about each other. 

That's a long time, a long history:  one hundred years, another hundred years and another hundred years again.

Celebrating Black History Month Celebrating Black History Month
Celebrating Black History Month Celebrating Black History Month

The Image of the United States

The United States continues to have an image problem throughout the world by virtue of its superpower status and the privilege that comes with it, but it is changing - improving.  We realize we can no longer be the superpower we thought we would be after World War II.  One of the sources of strength for a country is raw materials which, and in the past, were secured through wars.  Wars are not just expensive but go against the grain of the morals of society and also help to create an image problem.

Yet the image persists that the United States is a superpower that will subjugate the smaller countries all over the world.  This needs to change.  The defeat of extremists and the lesser use of drone missiles, fair and balanced trade with our neighbors - all of this helps. 

The near election of John Kerry for President, who opposed the Vietnam War, and the election and re-election of President Obama - all send a clear message to the outside world that things are changing.  The United States' representatives to the world, Secretaries of State, Hilary Clinton and John Kerry and the previous UN Ambassador, Susan Rice, have also contributed to the momentum of change.

The Beauty of the Makeup of the United States

One approach to solving the image problem is to start with who we are as a people. You can think of America as the composition of everybody else in the world because of the number of immigrants who have made America their home.  That makes the United States stand out as fundamentally different from most every other country in the world.  How does the United States manage the differences and, yet, remain a superpower?

If the United States provides a social fabric that allows all people who have come here from somewhere else (immigrants – all generations) to do well, then the world may begin to understand there is something right about the United States.  Through treating our own people correctly, we can have a positive influence around the world. This is especially true on the issue of human rights.  There are gross violations of human rights everywhere – minorities of every kind are being persecuted.

The beauty of the makeup of the United States is that it provides an opportunity for the United States to demonstrate our support of human rights starting at home.  Imagine being able to show that all groups comprising our country are doing well, as the Constitution lays it out.  All members of our society are treated as equals and are productive.

Embracing who we are fairly raises the strength of the country and improves our capabilities in a competitive market place.  We will be recognized as a power outside of the country.

Just imagine what it would be like for all women to be isolated and excluded from participation in society … You would have 50% of your people who are considered "worthless" - not producing anything and not contributing anything.  Subjugating a sector of society, it could be anybody, hurts the entire country.  You will have an unproductive segment of the population that needs to be taken care of, and that zaps the energy of the country.

For America to be competent in our global world, all people in America need to have the opportunity to contribute something. Together, all citizens contribute to its vibrancy creating a superpower with a good name, and the country moves on. Blacks, whites, Chinese, Vietnamese, you name it, Cape Verdean - all here together - everyone experiencing a sense of opportunity and possibility.

Eleanor Roosevelt – The First Lady and an American heroine, had the moral prerogative to enshrine human rights at the UN Charter.  We in the 21st century have an economic and political mandate to carrying on with this vision - to fuse our society with the value of human rights so that all members of our society become productive participants.

Celebrating Black History Month is Right for our Conscience

Black History Month helps to awaken the conscience of America.  Ask yourself how much the plantation owners in the United States benefited from free labor.  Generations of enslaved people created a huge surplus from their free labor. They were not paid salaries. They were treated like animals.

The plantation owners used their surplus to invest and create more wealth for themselves not to improve the lives of their slaves.  America, and not very abstractly, benefited from the accumulation of surplus from slave labor.

Some would argue that the accumulated wealth was spent in the Civil War.  It's very logical to say that because the United States nearly went bankrupt.  More than just black people, other groups in our history have paid a price for the unfair distribution of wealth.  Generations of Native Americans were wiped out due to wars and illness and the dispossession of their lands.

Today, some descendants of slaves are now vibrant participants of our society today, excelling in all realms of American life. Other descendants remain in poverty with little change or hope in their lives.  

Nonetheless, we must ask ourselves:  How do we reconcile the conscience of America? How do we reconcile this brutal treatment of our own social groups by one or more other of our own groups?

Black History Month focuses on, and celebrates, the very telling of what this country went through. It is a reminder that the fight is not yet over.  Discrimination is still present. Jobs and social status, access to education – at any level you look, black people have yet to be fully integrated into our society.  How do we create a country where these people - these groups - have access to opportunity equal to everybody else in this country? 

Black History Month focuses on one social group for which our nation's history cannot be proud and stands for reclaiming a rightful balance of thought and recognition for all who have been oppressed and taken advantage of.  We must continue to celebrate the Black People who have been so important in the creation of the country we are today.

Posted: February 22, 2013     Community Voices Initiative - Celebrating Black History - by G. Michael Tzerai

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