Black history is American history

Black history is American history

February 16th, 2014 in Opinion Times

February is designated as Black History Month.

There's good and bad in that. Good, in that any history we remember and revere is affirming. Bad, in that we relegate it to one section of the calendar. We segregate it, just as we often segregated ourselves in life.

Of course, blackness isn't the only race or ethnicity or holiday -- or even geography -- that we segregate. And, of course, sometimes segregation is not all bad: For instance, we wouldn't want to Christmas shop all year.

But it's long past time to acknowledge that we shouldn't talk about Martin Luther King or Harriet Tubman or Rosa Parks just in February. They need to be part of the same daily history, art, science and civics lessons and conversations that go on throughout the year.

President Barack Obama's presidency probably will help Americans with some of this mind-block problem. And so will life.

The 2010 census found a record number of people, 7 percent, identifying themselves as mixed-race, though the real number is probably much, much higher. The census found that 14.2 percent of Americans are black or part black, and that's up from 10.7 percent in 1963.

In the broad picture, there are indications we're making some progress toward seeing all Americans as just what we all are -- Americans.

In 1970, the nation had 1,469 black elected officials. Four decades later, we have more than 10,500.

In 1963, the median family income for blacks was $22,266 -- 55 percent of the median income for all American families. Today it's $40,495 -- 66 percent of the median income for all American families.

In 1964, only 25.7 percent of blacks age 25 and over had completed at least four years of high school, and 3.9 percent could boast at least four years of college. Today those numbers are 85 percent and 21.2 percent.

But there also are numbing indications that we still segregate:

Nearly 28 percent of blacks live in poverty, while the number for all Americans is 15 percent. And in more than four decades, the percent of blacks owning their own homes has increased less than 2 percent. That number in 2011 stood at 43.4 percent.

National surveys show the number of white drug users is about the same as the number of black users, but you wouldn't glean that from arrest statistics. In recent years, black people have been four times as likely to be arrested on marijuana charges.

African-Americans represent more than a third of the estimated 5.8 million people who are prohibited from voting because they have at some time been convicted of a felony offense, according to the Sentencing Project.

But perhaps nothing shows racial justice disparities more than Death Row. Blacks represent nearly 42 percent of Death Row inmates and 35 percent of all people executed since 1976. But here's the real shocker. Persons executed for interracial murders in the U.S. since 1976 look like this: 20 whites who were convicted of killing a black victim, and 267 blacks who were convicted of killing a white victim.

Unfortunately, a number of recently enacted laws seem pointed toward making progress toward total equality harder -- not easier. That's especially true in the South, where since 1900 the majority of American blacks live.

At least 20 states (including Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama) have laws with provisions that don't require civilians to flee from an intruder before fighting back, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Of those, eight states, all of them in the South, specifically use the phrase, "stand your ground." In non-stand-your-ground states, whites are 250 percent more likely to be found justified in killing a black person than a white person who kills another white person; in stand-your-ground states, that number jumps to 354 percent, according to a study by the Urban Institute's Justice Policy Center.

Another assault aimed at both blacks and women are voter suppression laws -- often touted as voter fraud prevention. That effort, around since Jim Crow days, really took off last June after the Supreme Court gutted a core provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Since then, some Republicans have acknowledged that the intent of efforts such as cutting back on early voting was to reduce or dilute minority votes because minorities tend to vote for Democrats.

Black history is fascinating, but it isn't just black history. It's our history. It's American history.

And it is time we treat it that way so we can look to America's future.