As I’m sure you’re aware, February is Black History Month.
The first time I heard of the designation was about 28 or 29 years ago when I was a cub reporter working for The Daily Advance in Elizabeth City, N.C. I thought it was absurd that there would be an entire month dedicated to learning about black history. I also felt it was extremely racist. After all, there was no White History Month, Hispanic History Month, Native American History Month, and so on.
Elizabeth City, however, had about a 50 percent black population and is home to Elizabeth City State University, a historically black college. Our newspaper staff was about 99 percent white, and we struggled each year to write stories pertaining to local black history. We did the best we could, but in hindsight I’m sure our stories would now seem condescending and comical in their sincerity.
I don’t remember what the story was, but I recall vividly the day I received several phone calls about one of the stories I had written. I had one black lady just blast me for being overtly racist. A white man also cursed me out as an N-word lover. I felt that by taking heat from both sides over the same story that I must have done something right.
After seven years and a day in Elizabeth City, I returned to my home in Colorado, where the black population was well below 10 percent. Working at the Longmont Daily Times-Call, we really didn’t do much to acknowledge Black History Month. Every once and a while we would find someone who had marched with Martin Luther King Jr. or we would cover a black history program being held in the area.
The big racial issue in Colorado at the time was between whites and Hispanics. There is a long history of racial strife in Longmont. Back in the ’70s or ’80s the police started holding basketball tournaments with local Hispanics to try and improve relations. I kid you not, but they actually called the tournaments Pork-N-Beans.
While I was at the Times-Call we usually made a big deal about Cinco de Mayo as our annual tip-of-the-hat (sombrero?) to Hispanic culture. About 20 percent of the population was Hispanic. I never really felt comfortable writing about Hispanic culture because I’m not Hispanic and I don’t understand the culture. Still, I must have learned something from trying to write about black history because I usually received compliments for my work, often from Hispanics.
I have now lived on Fort Bend County for 10 years. I didn’t know it until long after I had moved here, but Fort Bend County is widely considered to be the most racially diverse county in the state and probably the nation. I’ve never seen any data to support that, but I’d find it hard to dispute.
Some of the first people I met here and some of my dearest friends are black and Hispanic. I’ve become so accustomed to seeing people of different colors and races that I hardly notice it anymore. My sons attend Terry High School in Rosenberg. We’ve had children there for most of the last nine years. It wasn’t until just a couple years ago that I learned they are minorities at the school. It’s almost 74 percent Hispanic and 13 percent black. Whites only make up about 11 percent. We don’t have a problem with that.
What I do have a problem with are people who insist on making race an issue. I may be guilty of naively holding onto old racist attitudes, but I do make a very conscious effort to avoid any appearances of bias or racism. Unfortunately, I come across too many people of all races and ethnicities who harbor and nurture their racial hatred. We see a lot of it in the national media. It seems you can’t even mention President Donald Trump without someone getting their dander up and screaming racism.
Even now we have people equating his red Make America Great Again (MAGA) baseball hats to Nazi swastikas. That’s totally ridiculous. It’s a political slogan, not a racial epithet. People need to learn to de-escalate the race wars that are brewing in this country. We need to stop looking for excuses to hate each other and start finding reasons to like one another.
That is going to become crucial as we head into the elections this fall and the census in 2020. Race and ethnicity are going to become front-burner issues. If we can’t talk about them with civility, we’re going to erupt in major racial and ethnic violence. This will naturally spill over into politics, as the census is the tool we use to determine representation in Congress and to draw congressional districts.
If we can’t cool down the rhetoric now and learn to get along, we will be setting ourselves up for a very rough and uncomfortable time in the next two or so years. I see this as a great opportunity to get to know my fellow man a little better and to understand the journeys of people who walked a different path than I. If that means embracing Black History Month and Cinco de Mayo, then so be it. We lose nothing by learning about others and gain much in the way of trust and respect.