“The Group of the Month”
I just want to let you know that I am changing the format of my column. Starting in September, I will be devoting my column to each of the following groups. As you can see from the schedule below, each month I will be writing about a different group in Carroll County .
September - National Hispanic Heritage Month
October – Polish-American Heritage Month
November – Native-American Indian Heritage Month
January – National Volunteer Blood Donor Month
February – Black History Month
March is Women's History Month
April – Autism Awareness Month
May – Asian Pacific-American Heritage Month
August – American Artist Appreciation Month
During certain months, I am still searching for groups to discuss. Please send me your suggestions. Also, there are multiple groups for some months so please help me prioritize. For example, recently I learned that Carroll County Public Schools celebrate March as National Foreign Languages Month. However, March is also National Mental Retardation Awareness Month as well as Women's History Month. What is your preference?
At this moment, what do you think about my plain to write about a specific group each month? Are you pleased or angry? Do you feel included or excluded? What appeals to you or turns you off?
What I have proposed is something that schools, businesses, governmental agencies, and community groups do all of the time. Each month, we pick different groups or issues and honor them with media coverage, sales, celebrations, and lectures. As part of these month-long activities, we typically celebrate contributions of well-known individuals identified with that group. But, by honoring each group with its own month, we may alienate, stereotype, and distort.
For example, let's take a look at how we celebrate Black History Month. While my focus is the school system, this discussion relates to the workplace and other areas of life as well.
In general, do you think Black History Month:
- Covers only the highlights – the major individuals and historic events? What about the everyday, the ordinary people and events that may give us additional insight into the lives of Blacks, including those living in our Carroll?
- Segregates the contributions of Blacks? Do school activities focus on this group's experiences during February but largely ignore them the rest of the year? Are the experiences of African Americans incorporated into a course like American history throughout the year? As the editor-in-chief of a local high school newspaper says, “If the school system treats African-American history as a separate theme then students will also and perhaps subconsciously understand black history as something to be learned once a year instead of everyday.”
- Alienates people, particularly those belonging to groups which are not honored? For example, what about a month honoring those who consider themselves multiracial, or those who are adopted?
- Creates misperceptions? We might think that Black History Month is only for Blacks. Some Black students for example, resent the idea that Martin Luther King Day and Black History Month are seen by many as their celebrations, and are not as important for whites and other races. Moreover, they may resent the fact that they are often pressured to be a spokesperson or the “expert” for their race during this time of year.
- Celebrates on a superficial level? To some, once Black History Month is over, there is this feeling that we did it, we understand what it's all about, and now it is time to move on. Or instead of celebrating numerous Black experiences, we celebrate the Black experience, whatever that is. Instead of countering stereotypes, the “group of the month” approach feeds stereotypes.
- Makes us less appreciative of the many ways in which we are alike as well as different? Acclaimed poet and writer Maya Angelou makes the point that we are more alike than we are different. Or as former president John Kennedy said, “We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's future. And we are all mortal.”
In a way, the fact that we have Black History Month points to a failure in our educational system. If the curriculum was truly inclusive, perhaps we would not need Black History Month, or any group of the month for that matter.
Clearly, it is time to reevaluate. It is time to move beyond heroes and holidays, beyond taco Tuesdays. While celebrations are a positive and necessary part of honoring any group, they are not sufficient. Awareness and understanding of a group's experiences, perspectives, and contributions require much more time, work, and commitment.
By the way, I'm having second thoughts about this “group of the month” idea. I think I better forget it.
My next column will be “Different Perspectives, Better Solutions.”