Black History Month – Yadda Yadda

by Ronald Court

When famous soprano Leontyne Price was hailed by an opera critic as, “perhaps the greatest black opera singer of all time, ” she responded with, “What’s black got to do with it?”

Exactly.

Her fierce dedication, discipline, training and hard work – in a word, her character – not color,  defined her.

Yet news & feature editors around the country today are still rummaging through their archives for old columns to recycle in commemoration of February as “Black History Month.”

Expect articles on the usual suspects:  Frederick Douglass, WEB DuBois, Martin Luther King Jr., and my favorite, Booker T. Washington. Still, it seems a bit patronizing to ‘commemorate’ one month in twelve to a few famous people who happen to be of a particular race.

Maybe it’s time to emphasize color less and character more.

According to John Adams, the American Revolution occurred in the hearts and minds of the American people years long before shots were fired at Concord and Lexington. He saw the War for Independence as merely an “effect and a consequence” of the real American Revolution.

Similarly, the election of Barack Obama to the Presidency is merely the “effect and a consequence” of changes that occurred in the hearts and minds of people over several years (decades) leading up to the election. Note also that Michael Steele, a black American, was just elected to lead the Republican Party. Both events underscore that America has at last entered a post-racial age.

It is not how we look, but how we live that defines us.

Maybe it’s time to emphasize color less and character more.

Though Dr. King’s dream that people not be judged on the basis of color has been realized, his dream had a second part: that people be judged on the content of their character. In this, he echoed the practical vision and teachings of Booker T. Washington. When it comes to character, Booker T. wrote the book. Literally. His book, “Character Building,” a compilation of Sunday evening talks he gave to Tuskegee students is online and free for download at www.BTWsociety.
Sadly, much of Dr. Washington’s timeless wisdom and plain advice has been ignored by too many for too long. And we all, to one degree or another, suffer the consequences.

If, as WEB DuBois wrote a century ago, “the problem of the twentieth century (was) the problem of the color line,” what will be the problem of the twenty-first century?
The economy? Terrorism? Global warming? Political corruption? Reasonable people may differ as to the degree one presents a more “clear and present danger” than another. But these terms merely describe the effect and consequences – not the cause – of the actions taken by multitudes of individuals.
Each of these problems have at their root, a failure of character by individuals.  Thus, the problem of the twenty-first century will likely be the problem of the ‘character line.’

If the solution to the problem of the color line lay in emphasizing civil rights, I humbly suggest that the solution to the problem of the character line will lay in emphasizing personal responsibility.
Rather than “black history month,” why not, say, “character month?” Though the temptation to have government attempt to change society from the top down will always be with us, history shows that the slower way, by changing the hearts and minds of men and women from the inside out is the only true, lasting way.

This is real hope and change we can believe in.

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