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03.03.2009 Feature Article

Black History Month, Is It Worth Celebrating?

It is an undisputable fact that Black people have contributed immensely towards the development of the world and therefore the celebration of events like Black History Month should have been welcomed by all. However, the continuous celebration of BHM in the face of poverty, hunger, diseases and racial discrimination facing African-Americans and their counterparts in Europe today make any such celebrations meaningless and it will continue to be meaningless unless it is linked to the total liberation of African-Americans and Blacks in general from poverty, social and economic marginalisation and blatant discrimination.

The BHM is not worth celebrating when millions of African-Americans remain poor, cannot pay for health insurance and education; are homeless and marginalised economically; and are subjected to racism in America and Europe. To celebrate BHM in the face of all the problems facing African-Americans and Blacks in general is like Robert Mugabe having a lavish birthday party while cholera is decimating thousands of his people, while millions face starvation and the economy of his country is on the brink of collapse.

The institution of the BHM itself is an acknowledgement of the many wrongs committed by European-Americans mostly in the south against their African-American brothers whom they enslaved, maltreated and denied the basic right enjoyed by all people but does not liberate African –Americans from their current predicaments. The institution and the celebration of BHM are just superficial and cosmetics as there are deep seated problems facing African-Americans and other minorities today.

Today the old laws that favoured the imprisonment of Blacks on even minor offenses and on flimsy charges are still in place. As a result Blacks make up more than 50% of the total inmate population in USA despite the fact that they make up about 13% of the population.

An article by Louise D. Palmer, of the Boston Globe says that the “Evidence of prejudice against African-Americans in the criminal-justice system is overwhelming.

Criminologists such as William Chambliss, professor of sociology at George Washington University and past president of the American Society of Criminologists, says the Police admit that they focus their resources on black communities, particularly when enforcing drug laws and despite studies that show whites consume more drugs than blacks. "It is much easier to go into black community and pop someone selling drugs on the street corner than to go into a suburb where drug use happens behind closed doors," he says.

Blacks are also more frequently viewed as suspects, pulled over and targeted by raids, Chambliss said.

A survey of traffic stops in Volusia County, Fla., for instance, showed nearly 70 percent of those stopped were blacks or Hispanic, according to Georgetown University Law Professor David Cold, author of "No Equal Justice."

Police look for crimes in the ghetto, and that's where they find them," Chambliss said. Criminologists say sentencing guidelines were imposed in part to rid the criminal-justice system of sentences that varied dramatically because of prejudicial factors such as race, gender, individual circumstance or geography. But African Americans still received sentences an average of six months longer than whites for committing the same crime, according to a University of Georgia study”.
How good is Black History Month when lack of economic opportunities has forced millions of African-Americans to embrace welfare and crime as the only alternative? Is it enough to celebrate BHM when the walls of racism remain intact, when few African-Americans and their colleagues in Europe are found in the position of power and when majority of African-American male felons remain disenfranchised?

How many African-Americans are in the US Senate for example? President Obama was the only African-American in the one-hundred member seat Senate until his election as President. The tears of joy and the wild celebrations that we saw during President Obama's inauguration show how far they have come.

It is on record that John McCain opposed the institution of Martin Luther King's Day and during one of the presidential debates referred to Obama as "That one" a clear sign of disrespect for even African-Americans who have made it to the top of American society.

One commentator commented after Obama was elected that, “America has managed to elect its first African-American president and we are waiting to see if Europe will be able to have their own Black President or Prime Minister”. A clear manifestation that the policies of keeping Blacks down and out of political and economic power is not only peculiar to America.

There is every indication that Europe is no where near what America has done, it will be at least another hundred years before Europe can have its first prime minister or president from a minority background. The comments that came from European politicians like Silvio Berlusconi, Prime Minister of Italy and Radek Sikorski, Foreign Minister of Poland when Obama was elected attest to this fact. Berlusconi in a meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in Moscow said

''Obama is young, handsome and also tanned, so he has all the qualities to agree with you''. The Polish FM also joked that President Obama's grandparents were cannibals. "Have you heard that Obama may have a Polish connection? His grandfather ate a Polish missionary," Mr. Sikorski was quoted on blog run by Mr. Ryszard Czamecki a Polish Member of European Parliament. A spokesman for the FM in denying the charge also said, "Mr Sikorski did not tell a racist joke," said Piotr Paszkowski, the spokesman. "He was only giving an example of the unpalatable and racist 'jokes' that surround President Elect Obama."

If such derogatory comments could come from top politicians in Europe who are the elite, then what will you expect from the ordinary men and women? The result is what is being witnessed in stadia across Europe where monkey chants are made against Black players and bananas are thrown at them.

In Britain and France where they have a sizeable percentage of Blacks among their population, it is very disheartening to know that institutional racism has ensured that no Black person makes it to the top. In France for example there is only one Black cabinet minister and out of the total deputies (MPs) of 577 only one is Black and none are of Arab origin despite France's five million-strong Arab Muslim population and the same is true for Italy where there is only one Black Member of Parliament.

Black newscasters for most of the major news networks for example only come on screen in the night when most viewers have gone to bed and even the BBC is not exception. A recent survey has revealed that job recruiting agencies in the United Kingdom have an unofficial policy not to recruit blacks and other minorities as receptionists for companies and businesses. It is common to see Blacks and other minorities being stopped and searched at ports of entry in Europe by immigration officers.

Whereas policies such as Affirmative Action which gives African-Americans the chance to progress economically and socially seem to be working in America, Europe appears to be far behind America in those respects. France has resisted any such policy despite the mounting evidence poverty and joblessness among the minorities.

To make the celebration of BHM worth participating in, the US and European governments must first and foremost also pay reparations to all those blacks who have endured decades of injustices, discriminations and economic marginalisation and whose ancestors also slaved for centuries for nothing. Not only that, every board either private or public must be made to have a certain percentage of minorities as board members as is currently happening in South Africa where apartheid kept the majority Black population from holding any key position in government and private institutions. Such affirmative action policy is what is needed if integration is to work in Europe.

African-Americans and their colleagues in Europe too must take their destiny into their own hands. The African-American male population must recognise that crime does not pay and that it is only education that can free them from crime and poverty. A report that majority of US inmates are functionally illiterate and cannot even fill job application forms does not make any good reading.

The repeating cycle of teen pregnancy, promiscuity, disappearing dads, school dropouts, alcoholism and dealing and taking drugs only make the situation worst. There is nothing good than getting and keeping a job as it helps to eliminate the dangers that push one towards crime. Government actions alone cannot solve the problems and neither will such events as Black History Month. Dads should show more interest in the upbringing of their kids. Parents should get the kids interested in education and the world and its possibilities. Parents should set good examples and be role models for their kids. Blacks must be responsible citizens of their communities; they have to work together with the city authorities, church groups and civil society organisations to stop the cycle of poverty and the degeneration of family values.

There are many Chinese, Vietnamese, Taiwanese, Koreans and Philippinos who moved to America with nothing but have worked to make a successful life for themselves so there is no reason why with the correct attitude and support African-Americans cannot make it.

All said and done, the celebration of BHM will be meaningless unless there is a fundamental change in federal and state policies and laws towards Blacks and other minorities. BHM will remain cosmetics and superficial especially in Europe unless it is linked to the total elimination of poverty, racial discrimination, prejudice and economic marginalisation of Blacks and other minorities.

By Lord Aikins Adusei

Lord Aikins Adusei
Lord Aikins Adusei, © 2009

This author has authored 133 publications on Modern Ghana. Author column: LordAikinsAdusei

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