Op-Ed by Ambassador Doherty: National African American History Month

By Ambassador Doherty

(English text)

“E pluribus unum.”  “Out of Many, One.”  Originally, this 13-letter motto that is stamped on all U.S. coins and dollars referred to the coming together of 13 states to form one federated country.  Today, the motto has come to mean that out of many peoples, races, religions, languages, and ancestries, a single nation has emerged.  The United States derives strength from the diversity of its population and takes opportunities like National African American History Month to cherish the differences.

This month marks the 40th year that the United States has observed National African American History Month as a way to recognize the contributions of African Americans.  Each February, we honor the sacrifices and celebrate the accomplishments of African Americans of all walks of life and throughout America’s history from the Revolutionary War through the abolitionist movement and to the marches for civil rights that continue today.  It is an opportunity to recognize the outstanding contributions of African Americans to our country’s culture, business, science, music, art and political life.  Beyond this, African American History Month is something more–it is a chance to reflect on how diversity and pluralism advance democracy.  As President Obama has said, “America’s diversity is our strength.”

Pluralism as a political philosophy embodies the peaceful coexistence of different interests, convictions and lifestyles into one body politic.  Ancient Greek philosophers Democritus and Epicurus posited a “plurality of worlds,” while historians Herodotus and Xenophon noted the cultural differences between the Greeks of the time and their neighbors in Egypt and Persia.  Life was, and is, the interaction of diverse ethnic, religious, linguistic and cultural groups.  By extension, political pluralism can be understood as the participation of these numerous and often competing groups in a country’s political processes that balance different class, racial, ethnic and cultural interests.  A multiplicity of viewpoints and perspectives contribute to better decisions, a better country and a better world.

Certainly, America’s past and, unfortunately, even our present are marked by moments when we fail to live up to our best aspirations.  The work of combatting intolerance and perfecting our political system is unending and occasions like National African American History Month serve to remind us of what work remains to be done.  But it is also a chance to be proud that I, the daughter of an Irish immigrant, call the United States “home” as did Rosa Parks, who refused to give up her seat on a Birmingham, Alabama bus to a white rider in a stand for equality; the same place as poet Maya Angelou, jurist Thurgood Marshall, musician Louis Armstrong, astronaut Mae Jemison, and fellow diplomat Terrence Todman, who was the first black American to serve as U.S. Ambassador to six different countries across the globe.

To prosper, multicultural pluralistic societies require consensus on certain principles, including respect for difference, commitment to countering prejudice and discrimination and promotion of tolerance.  I hope that National African American History Month in the United States inspires people everywhere to reach for a day when no person is judged by anything but the content of their character.

For more information on National African American History Month please visit:  http://www.africanamericanhistorymonth.gov/