Spinning Clio includes an interesting post on the Morgan Freeman interview by Mike Wallace which aired on 60 Minutes this past Sunday. Their discussion of black history month was particularly interesting. When asked about it, Freeman dismissed it out of hand. He finds it unacceptable to relegate black history to one month. “Black history is American history” Freeman asserted. When pressed by Wallace that it may be more difficult to eradicate racism without setting aside the time, Freeman responded: “How are we going to get rid of racism? Stop talking about it?”
As a high school teacher who emphasizes African American history throughout the year I make it a point to integrate it into the broader narrative w/0 singling it out. I agree with Freeman that black history is American history, but I would go even further to say that black history exemplifies the process by which the boundaries of freedom are expanded. My students sometimes wonder why we spend so much time (relative of course to their last class in American history) studying “black” topics. My answer is always the same. Issues of race have always been paramount in our history from the introduction of slavery to the establishment of an antebellum slave society to the legal nightmare of Jim Crow which lasted well into the 20th century. Issues of race must play a crucial role in the history curriculum because it continues to shape politics and society at large. Americans are obsessed with race and yet fail miserably in thinking seriously about how race has defined this nation’s history. It seems we find it to be either too depressing or it conflicts too sharply with our progressive ideals of freedom. On the one hand black history month is dangerous as it seems to countenance the idea that the subject exists on the fringes of the broader narrative. At the same time it does reflect the historical balance of power between those who have controlled the content of our preferred national narrative and those who have been left behind.