Posted byat 16th February, 2011
It’s February again! The shortest month of the year is host to several celebrations including Black History Month. I suspect this year people will wonder, “Don’t we all know by now the contributions of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr.?” “Aren’t we living in the post-racial era?” “Isn’t it all good now that we have a Black President?”
No, unfortunately it is not. Racial, class, and gender injustice still operate in America. However, we have the opportunity to better confront injustice, if we take our Black History Month lessons more seriously.
Thanks to Black History Month, some of us know the contributions, struggles, and victories of a handful of prominent people of African descent. We know the battles of civil rights warriors who put their lives on the line to change this nation to one that operates more closely within its proclaimed tenets and ideals. Certainly ‘liberty and justice for all’ was not something that Blacks or other people of color could readily expect or count on when Dr. Carter G. Woodson, a Harvard Ph.D., started Black History month in 1926 by instituting the first ‘Negro History Week.’ He chose the 2nd week in February for the celebration, acknowledging the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln, two men who were instrumental in removing the chains of slavery from Black Americans.
Black History Week grew into Black History Month in 1976. For 85 years we have set aside a specific time to focus on the contributions, accomplishments, and history of Black people. And yet, a majority of Americans still do not know more than a few familiar Black heroes. Why don’t we know more? Why isn’t it every American’s responsibility to become more culturally literate about Black people and other racial and ethnic groups who have contributed to building this nation? Many of the students I teach at Rutgers University reveal that they know very little about Black people’s contribution to the history of America. These are students who have excelled, and often come from schools with rigorous curricula. If this is an indication that Black History is not being considered or taught as American History, then isn’t it time for a change? Frederick Douglass would encourage us to demand that change. Not only of our institutions, but also of ourselves.
When Black History Month focuses on the Civil Rights Movement of the 60’s, we witness the energy of everyday people, many of whom were teens, who took action and forced a nation to change its laws, and some of its attitudes. We should take leadership from them, and change our attitudes. Knowledge is power, especially when it moves us to action.
So in 2011, let’s take Black History Month seriously. In the 2nd decade of the 21st century each of us should actively fill in the gaps that still exist in our understanding of the history, contributions, and bravery of Black people. We should work to move Black History Month out of the confines of the 28 days in February, and into an integral part of our collective history in America. We can do this by making an effort to learn something new about Black History and culture throughout the entire year.
Learn what you can and share what you know! Start by paying more attention to the Black History Month spots on television. Learn more about the person being highlighted. Visit a Black History Month site on the Internet and dig a little deeper and learn about one more person who is featured there. If you have more time and interest then read about how Black people have made a contribution to the fields of medicine, law, education, science and many other areas of American society. Post what you learn on social media. Share the information in your Blogs!
Only when we face the truth of our shared history will we be able to recognize and combat the injustice that still exists in America today.