America has celebrated Black History Month since 1976. If you have a problem with that, perhaps it's best you not read on.

A lot of people do seem to have a problem with Black History Month. It comes up every February, in letters to the editor, in casual conversation, among the talking heads on TV.

But it seems to us that even asking the question suggests ... well, a certain unhelpful attitude.

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Why not celebrate Black History Month? Whom does it hurt? (Although "celebrate" might not be quite the right word considering the history of the African-American experience in the United States.)

And for the record, blacks are certainly not the only group with their own month. The nation also takes note of Filipino American History Month, National Hispanic Heritage Month, Jewish American Heritage Month, LGBT History Month, National Tibetan American Heritage Month, Puerto Rican Heritage Month, Women's History Month, Gay and Lesbian Pride Month, National Disability Employment Awareness Month, Irish-American Heritage Month, Polish-American Heritage Month and so on ...

Why does Black History Month annoy people so?

Perhaps it's the guilt associated with it.

Because, yes, that is why the history of African Americans in America gets what some people call "special treatment" today - because of guilt. And what's wrong with that? It's simply honest. America, as a nation, has much to feel guilty about regarding the treatment of African Americans in this country. Does anyone really argue that point?

Slavery, segregation, lynchings - any of that ring a bell? How about decades of more subtle discrimination - in housing, in employment, in education?

All in the past, you say? Yes, much of it. Thank goodness. But not all of it.

So if Black History Month does spark schools - and newspapers - to spend a few weeks taking special note of African American history, isn't that a good thing? How is knowledge a bad thing?

The Press kicks off its coverage of Black History Month today with a guest column on the Commentary page from John H. Lyles-Belton, a long-time Atlantic City resident. It's a fascinating read - did you know Atlantic City had some of the first black police and fire chiefs in the nation? - and a plaintive lament about the crime, unemployment and poverty that afflicts much of the city's black community today.

We are also running the first installment of our serialization of Nelson Johnson's "The Northside," which is another fascinating read on the role African Americans played in the development of Atlantic City.

Again, why the "special treatment" for blacks?

Because their history is part of everyone's history in this nation, because this nation's treatment of blacks before a bunch of brave people launched the Civil Rights Movement is shameful, because racism continues to haunt far too much of our society.

The real question is why anyone would want to shirk the responsibility of knowing and commemorating this history.

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