In all of the Black history tributes on TV commercials and social media this month, you will be hard-pressed to find one that features a single Black conservative leader.
Cancel culture warriors routinely exclude legends like Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice from history just because of their political views.
Yet, it’s clear that many of the same people who seek to cancel conservative icons lack even a basic understanding of American history.
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For example, San Francisco public schools gleefully publicized their county-wide commemoration of Black History Month. In addition to their social media and blog posts, they even released a “2021 Black History Resource Guide” to punctuate their embrace of the holiday.
But here’s the irony: just a week prior, they voted to strip a school of Abraham Lincoln’s name – one of the men Black History Month was originally intended to recognize.
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In 1926, Carter G. Woodson – known as the “Father of Black History” – created the first Negro History Week held in the second week of February specifically to honor the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass. In the decades that followed, Negro History Week evolved into what we now celebrate as Black History Month.
While it’s unsettling that the leaders of a major public school district could be so clueless about history, they certainly are not alone. Many of the same cancel culture enthusiasts – who, for example, seek to silence conservative voices in news publications or social media sites – wax eloquently about the contributions of Black leaders throughout history. However, history is a clear rebuke of cancel culture.
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Black history has always been marked by spirited debates and ideological diversity. Leaders with opposing political views and starkly different approaches to equality challenged each other in the marketplace of ideas. Contrary to President Biden’s claim that “you ain’t black” if you don’t support the Democrat party’s platforms, history teaches us that the Black community was never a monolith.
Cancel culture, on the other hand, seeks to silence political opponents and remove them from political debate entirely. Instead of engaging different ideas or attempting to convince skeptics of an alternate view, it’s an intellectually lazy attempt to circumvent the discussion as a whole. But history teaches us something entirely different.
Booker T. Washington, who was born into slavery and rose to prominence as a famous author and orator, was known for having a unique approach to Black progress, especially compared to his contemporaries. In fact, he chastised many other leaders of his day:
“There is another class of coloured people who make a business of keeping the troubles, the wrongs, and the hardships of the Negro race before the public. Having learned that they are able to make a living out of their troubles, they have grown into the settled habit of advertising their wrongs – partly because they want sympathy and partly because it pays…”
Washington’s self-reliant approach to racial equality was popular in many segments of the Black community but earned a great deal of backlash in others. W.E.B. Dubois – one of the founders of the NAACP – constantly challenged Booker T. Washington’s views, which he derided as too accommodating of inequality.
Although the two intellectual leaders were often at odds with one another, neither determined to expel the other from public discourse. Regardless of their disagreements, both leaders sought to convince people – not muzzle their opponents.
Decades later, there existed a similar dynamic between Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King. They each had a drastically different vision for how to best achieve equality, often placing them at odds with one another. Fortunately, Dr. King’s message triumphed. Still, both men had an opportunity to share their views and convince others of their perspective.
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A thorough review of history would uncover even more examples of dueling approaches to racial progress. There was never one way to think, or any single acceptable vision for how Blacks could achieve equality in the aftermath of slavery. In fact, competing views strengthened the Black community and helped advance the United States.
That’s why we ought to share the whole of Black history this month – with all the nuance included. It’s time that we rediscover the beauty of public discourse and the ever-important freedom of speech. Perhaps, we might find that these ideas are just too precious to give up.
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