Every February, America goes through a month-long ritual where it reminds everyone that blacks and whites have beef, and black people only matter historically when they’ve been victimized by white people. Setting aside the first part — the incessant picking at a great scab that is never allowed to heal — black people are taught to feel angry, less important, and, through their identity as victims, trained to measure any success they might have as a function of either a defeat for or a gratuity from white people.
If Black History Month were truly meant to be a paean to black Americans, it would highlight blacks whose historical contributions to America include more besides ending slavery and overcoming prejudice. While those are undoubtedly massive steps forward for any society, they are not uniquely American.
Slavery has always been a tragic condition of humanity worldwide, and every nation has its tale of struggling with it. Some struggle on even today. Did you know that, of the 12.5 million Africans shipped to the western hemisphere between the 16th and 19th centuries, a mere 388,000 landed on North American shores? Or that, during roughly the same time period, North Africans captured and enslaved well over a million Europeans? Good luck finding any part of the world that wasn’t tainted with involuntary servitude at some point in history.
While the United State’s history with slavery is obviously a formative part of the story of African Americans, it’s not the only part. Many great black Americans deserve to be highlighted for contributions other than race-related matters, too.
For example, Crispus Attucks’ name ought to be as well-known as Paul Revere’s: Attucks was the first American Patriot killed as he confronted the British at the very beginning of the American Revolution.
The National Park Service summarizes Attucks’s amazingly important final act and resulting death:
Crispus Attucks, a sailor of mixed African and Indigenous ancestry, died in Boston on March 5, 1770 after British soldiers fired two musket balls into his chest. His death and that of four other men at the hands of the 29th Regiment became known as the Boston Massacre. Death instantly transformed Attucks from an anonymous sailor into a martyr for a burgeoning revolutionary cause.
In March of 1770, tensions were running red hot between American colonists and their British rulers. On that fateful day, Attucks helped lead a group of angry sailors who confronted British soldiers stationed in Boston. The sailors wielded clubs, hurled snowballs, and shouted at the soldiers. In a panic, the soldiers fired into the crowd. Attucks was the very first person killed in what came to be known as the Boston Massacre, a pivotal event that brought the colonies and England to the threshold of war.
Crispus Attucks lay in state in Faneuil Hall alongside the other four men killed in the Massacre. The City of Boston waved segregation laws so he could also be buried with them. It is right and just that he was so honored, and he deserves to be a household name in this country.
Related: Falling Back into History
Black History Month rightly celebrates Harriet Tubman, Ruby Bridges, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr., and the like. But all their renown comes from the role they played in the conflict against racism. Crispus Attucks was the very first American to give his life to the cause of liberating the colonies from British rule and creating the freest, greatest nation man has yet conceived. How is that not at least as important?
Now, imagine how different black Americans would feel about themselves and their country if one of their own were consistently mentioned along with America’s other founding patriots. Imagine the increased sense of pride, ownership, equality, and patriotism they might have for their homeland. Why are the people who control our educational system so afraid of that?