I was sad but not surprised to learn the elderly Rosa Parks had died Monday at age 92.Most of us on campus are far too young to remember segregation or the December day when Parks defied it; my parents themselves were just infants.
We’re fortunate to live in a nation where legal segregation has not only been expunged from our laws but is also anathema to our modern culture.
But it stunned me to realize that, as a school kid, my class studied Rosa Parks not as a part of American history but instead as part of black history.
I hope I won’t be misinterpreted when I suggest that separating scientists like George W. Carver, pioneering educators like Booker T. Washington, politicians like Powell, Rice or Obama, or civil rights patriots such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks from their respective fields is a manifestation of segregation, which Parks risked her life to combat (she received numerous death threats for making her stand).
Categorizing history by race tells us little about the past. Not much could be learned by reciting the names of scientist Michael Faraday, educator John Dewey, politician Margaret Thatcher and civil rights leader Daniel O’Connell. They’re all white.
But what else do they have in common? They’re all Anglo-Saxons, except for O’Connell. They’re all men, except for Thatcher. They’re all British or Irish, except for Dewey.
Race doesn’t determine who people are.
What Parks did is important not only to black Americans but to all Americans, and the implications of the civil rights movement affected the concept of civil rights around the world. This impacts everyone, and it is very important.
Should we pigeonhole our horizons according to our race or ethnicity? Do I like Tchaikovsky and Beethoven because my ancestors farmed in Russian and Germanic lands? Should Kennedy’s able handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis not be appreciated by Protestants simply because their version of Christianity differs somewhat from his? Should only people with false teeth and powdered wigs be allowed to envy the abilities of our founders? Of course not!
Achievements and endeavors should be recognized for their impact on the world. It is a mistake to define people’s deeds by the color of their skin or the details of their creed. Parks was one of many Americans whose work was dedicated to ending skin-deep distinctions. Let us honor her by not defining our world by color.
Nicholas Sambaluk is a senior history major and creator of the “Newsreal” editorial cartoons.