February is Black History Month. It is a time when we remember and celebrate the contributions and triumphs of our African-American sisters and brothers. Far too often their accomplishments and contributions have been erased from our history books or retold in ways that fail to give full credence to so many rich and nuanced stories.
This month is not just a needed corrective to white-washed facts and stories, but a celebration. Perhaps there is no better place to see the power of God and the tenacity of the human spirit than in the stories of those who have given so much to our culture, nation and world in the face of adversity, persecution and oppression.
In working with so many diverse churches, there are some communities who seem to instinctively understand the importance of this time of remembrance and celebration. Other times, there is a lingering question, sometimes spoken and other times implied.
Why should European Americans care about a month celebrating the history and accomplishments of African Americans?
There are, of course, many answers to that question. Black History Month highlights goodness, beauty, strength and perseverance. It is a gift for all humans, not just those who it highlights.
But there is another answer I’d like to explore. We can never have more than a shallow and two-dimensional understanding of our own history until we understand the histories of others.
It is through hearing the stories and perspectives of others that we are able to move beyond our own stationary post and explore the depths and dimensions of our world experience.
For those who live as minorities, encountering and learning about the histories of the dominant culture is unavoidable. It is the water in which we all are swimming. For those of us in dominant culture, we must do the work to seek out the stories that would otherwise not be told or heard. It’s when we don’t realize that we’re swimming for our lives that we are in danger of drowning ourselves.
When we fail to learn the histories of our brothers and sisters, we not only run the risk of perpetuating the injustices of the past, but we lose a rich possibility for all our futures.