Student Op-Ed on Black History Month: ‘Why Don’t We Have Redneck or Midget History Month?’
A student newspaper op-ed questioning the appropriateness of Black History Month has triggered so much controversy and attention the school’s president felt compelled to weigh in.
The piece appeared late last month in a “Black to the Future” special issue of The Student Movement at Michigan’s Andrews University. The student writer Nathan Davis states upfront, “Though I’m male and my skin is pale, I am not a white man. Both ‘whiteness’ and ‘manness’ are social constructs. … I am raceless by choice.” OK, then.
As a “raceless” gender-neutral human, he argues that setting aside an entire month to commemorate black history is reverse racism — “simplifying the diverse and divergent cultures of various black people” and placing them at odds from the rest of society. According to Davis, what’s needed instead is a month set aside for stereotyped individuals and groups of all races, genders, religions and physical and mental conditions.
In his words, “Why don’t we have Redneck History Month, or Mohammedan History Month, or Midget History Month? There are a lot of groups which have been discriminated against … but we shouldn’t set aside an entire month just to discuss each oppressed. We should expand Black History Month into ‘Anti-Stereotyping Month,’ and we should expect and pressure historians and history teachers to start giving more well-rounded retellings of the past.”
By chance, the lede sentence of the op-ed beneath Davis’s write-up crystallized the trouble to come: “Have you ever stopped and asked yourself, ‘Hey, am I racist?'”
Many in the Andrews community answered that question for Davis with a resounding yes. The sentiments expressed in his op-ed were not greeted kindly or quietly. Letters to the editor poured in, so many that the paper featured the brouhaha on the cover of its next issue and set aside two full pages for those weighing in. Editors also apologized for publishing the piece and requested additional reader feedback on Facebook.
The Spectrum journal has covered the controversy extensively. An Andrews sophomore emailed the publication directly with thoughts which appear to echo a majority of the piece’s critics:
“I don’t think the author was trying to be intentionally racist, but I do think the article expressed a very clear discomfort with the celebration of blackness and black culture. I have a hard time believing that he’s so detached that he had no idea people would take offense at his article. Was it offensive? Definitely. … I’ve heard so many black people who grew up not wanting to be black, who had to learn to love themselves, and his statement that we shouldn’t do that, that we shouldn’t celebrate who we are, was offensive, and flat out wrong.”
University president Niels-Erik Andreasen also sent a campus-wide email addressing the op-ed. As he confirmed:
“It has led to significant discussion on our campus and in social media, a discussion that has reflected dismay and, at times, outrage, about the views expressed by the student in the article. In turn, these discussions have raised questions about whether the views expressed in that opinion piece reflected a larger attitude about race and diversity on the part of the University and its administration. The student newspaper is and should be a place where honest conversation about ideas can take place—including differing opinions about subjects that matter to us. However, the conclusions reached in this opinion piece were clearly at odds with the values of our University community on this subject.”