The End of Black History Month

In the Obama era, what's the rationale for separating black history from American history?

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When black American history intertwines so completely with American history in general, what’s the rationale for separating them?

Some, however, disagree. “The notion that it’s outlived its usefulness betrays some ignorance of what its purpose was in the first place,” said Howard Dodson, director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, the celebrated Harlem-based repository of black historical documents and artifacts.

“If you follow the logic of those who say Black History Month has outlived its usefulness, they’re also saying that institutions like the Schomburg have outlived their usefulness,” Dodson told me in February 2006.

The fact of President Obama necessarily calls into question the long-standing African-American preoccupation with life in that rearview mirror. His election doesn’t diminish or undercut the importance of black history as an index to the future; it does make the reflexive reverence of Black History Month seem like what it’s fast becoming: an observance with an existence that reinforces a sense of apartness, of separation, that Obama’s election directly contradicts.

To what degree do we tarnish the spirit of black American history by holding it apart from the rest of a society it was meant to interact with?