Here we go again

Portland Diverse-City
By SHAY STEWART-BOULEY  |  January 11, 2006

The holidays are finally over and we have a new year to write on our checks. So, it’s time to think up all the stuff we would like to do under the guise of “resolutions.” So far, the only one I’ve ever kept (and only because I was dragged kicking and screaming) is my resolution several years ago to get the nicotine monkey off my back.

Maybe this year you’ve resolved to do some intellectual growing. Maybe you want to become more aware of other cultures because you read this column every month and my rantings on diversity have wormed their way deep into your brain.

If so, you’ll have chances to do some learning close to home.

January, after all, is the month we celebrate the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. One of the most notable happenings locally is the 25th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Breakfast held on January 16 in Portland. Or, you can get a pair of discussions that are food-free at the University of New England, which will host author Noam Chomsky and physician William Anderson, D.O.

And then February is Black History Month, where for 28 days we have activities designed to help us know more about Black folks.

It probably seems like I’m promoting all this. I’m certainly not denigrating the events. As a Black woman, I certainly like to see awareness sown widely. But in truth, it all kind of bothers me.

Why? Not that I hang on the words and opinions of celebrities, but actor Morgan Freeman was recently quoted as saying Black History Month is ridiculous. And frankly, I agree.

Considering that I hold a degree that was focused on Black History, I most certainly feel there is merit in knowing about that history. But the fact that we roll it out once a year is what makes me cringe.

People attend these types of activities and feel enlightened for a few days or weeks. But when given a chance to interact with real live folks of color, these same people often are flustered.

Case in point: If I had a buck for every conversation I have where a person who is white mentions they know a Black person or finds a way to slip in they are cool with Black people, I’d be able to buy Peaks Island. I know people do this because they think it will make me feel comfy, but really, it’s overkill. Unless there is a specific and very relevant context, I don’t need to know that your Aunt Sally’s daughter-in-law married a Black man. It won’t make me trust you any more or any less. If you were talking to a homeless person, would you mention how you know lots of poor people? Maybe you would, but I wouldn’t. It’s patronizing.

No, if you really want to expand your world, then make it a point to treat people well in general. Every day. Every place. Every color, creed, and persuasion (unless that persuasion involves a penchant for molesting children or something comparably repugnant).

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