Monday, February 24, 2014

Black History Month

As Black History Month draws to a close, an important question comes to mind:  Will America ever be open-minded and accepting enough that there is no longer a need for such reminders?

To answer that question it’s necessary to look at behaviors and the incentives for those behaviors.  Black History Month has sponsors, as do many of the other commemorations, celebrations and recognition of accomplishments by minorities or those who otherwise see themselves as victims of society.  The sponsors include the NAACP and other local advocates.  According to a 2011 filing, the NAACP has 157 jobs with a payroll of $11,610,417 (average about $74,000).  The CEO salary is nearly $300,000.  They have a vested interest in maintaining a certain level of tension for their own job security and intrinsic rewards associated with fighting for a worthy cause.

Look at the March of Dimes as an example, founded in 1938, in response to the polio epidemic.  “With its original goal of eliminating polio accomplished, the March of Dimes faced a choice: to either disband or dedicate its resources to a new mission.” “In 1958 [it launched] its ‘Expanded Program’ against birth defects, arthritis, and virus diseases, seeking to become a ‘flexible force’ in the field of public health. In the mid-1960s, the organization focused its efforts on the prevention of birth defects and infant mortality”  “In 2005, reducing the toll of premature birth was added as a mission objective.”  These are all excellent causes, but see how the original purpose of the organization was flexed to fit the need to maintain the viability of the organization and jobs.  With one problem solved they redefined themselves, switching their efforts (along with the fund raising expertise and momentum) to related causes.

Advocates for women’s rights and gay rights find themselves in a similar position. Just as some environmental groups would never admit that the air or water is clean enough, advocacy groups have little incentive to see a final end to the cause they fight for.  If they do, they must modify their mission to stay in business.

It’s always easy to point to the ignorant or misguided among our fellow citizens who continue to judge others by the color of their skin, their speech patterns, sex or sexual preferences.  No matter how few, they provide examples of the need to continue working.  Bogus statistics, like the one about women earning 71 cents for every dollar a man earns will continue to be cited to keep such causes alive.  Black History Month, Pride parades, women's events and the rest will continue as long as people can credibly maintain their victim status and point accusing fingers.  Newscasters become willing accomplices with their litany of firsts that dwell on, rather than downplay differences – it gets almost to the point of parody:  the first gay native-Hawaiian Catholic woman to walk in space.  They also promote rather than dispel the notion that my heroes and role models must look like me – a concept that in itself is racist/sexist, but is put forth by people with a sincere interest in ending discrimination.

Powerful incentives are at play, but my hope is that such celebrations, announcements and staged events will some day become obsolete, stale remnants of the past, unable to survive thanks to changes in the attitude and behavior of all parties.

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