By Hamza Sharif Omar
Often I hear people complain: Why the need for black history month, which is February? We should recognize the accomplishments of all groups because diversity is what makes America great.
While we have come a long way, we still have to educate people that blacks’ achievements go way beyond sports, entertainment and music.
Few people, for example, know that the (carbon filament) light bulb’s inventor is Lewis Latimer, Dr. Charles Drew invented blood the blood bank process, and Philip Emagali developed technology to improve the speed of super computers. America’s first black millionaire was Madame CJ Walker, who created hair products.
Few Iowans know about a predominately black, prosperous Iowa mining town known as Buxton. The stereotype of poor black people just moving to Iowa from Chicago ghettos is false. Blacks have contributed to Iowa’s history since the late 1800s.
If we are educating a diverse student body and future work force, it is essential we recognize the achievements of all cultures. Some say if you point out racism or celebrate black achievement, you’re being racist and that we should avoid discussing racism.
Would anyone dare tell Jewish people to stop talking about or remembering the Holocaust? What blacks endured beginning with the Middle passage, slavery, Jim Crow and segregation, lynchings and church bombings is a holocaust itself. We should learn about the past so not to ever repeat it.
We honor the overcoming of racism in America, just as we honor the Founding Fathers of this nation who overcame British tyranny.
Racism to those who experience it is very real. Ask the black nurse who was told by her hospital not to touch a child because the father was a white supremacist who requested only white staff care for his child.
Racism is still alive in America. FBI statistics show 46.8 percent of hate crimes reported in 2011 were from racial bias. Membership in the Ku Klux Klan and other hate groups increased in 2010, according to Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups.
So we Americans must educate ourselves and remain vigilant. Racism is really about exclusion, privilege and power. Having an honest conversation about racism is a healthy step in a process toward America’s fully healing its racial wounds.
Celebrating black history, and learning about the accomplishments of all cultures, represents a step toward inclusiveness. Perhaps one day we can celebrate all achievements as human accomplishments.
l Hamza Sharif Omar of Iowa City is a Juvenile Court liaison at South East Junior High School. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org