Why we still need Black History Month

A viewpoint from someone who once thought we did not

Black history is American history. Separating the two doesn’t unite us, it divides us. To truly reach the ideals of equality, we cannot dedicate months of the year to those things that separate us, but we must dedicate our lives to realizing those things that unite us: the common brotherhood of all mankind.

I was once an idealist, and these were some of my beliefs. However, as each year falls to greater experience, I learn that the only way for an idealist to push for progress is through realism. And the reality of the world, the nation and the community we live in is that we are still a people too far divided to yet be inseparably united.

We broke one of God’s rules four centuries ago, and it’s absurd to believe that we mended it in a generation. Although we’ve made strides toward deinstitutionalizing racism in our society, it still lives within our conceptions about our society, and thereby the way we prosecute our laws and the way we live our lives.

When people of color make up 30 percent of our country but 60 percent of our prison population, we must examine our society and our history.

We are left with two possibilities. Either our society is broken, and we need to change it, or people of color are inherently worse than their white counterparts. The latter is the very definition of racism, yet too many justify the disproportionate application of our laws through that very logic. Many of those same people speak of a “post-racial” America in the same sentence.

The true and lasting value of national conversations over cases like Treyvon Martin’s is that they start this dialogue. No one knows with certitude what the true motivation of George Zimmerman was when the shots were fired that killed Martin. However, what we do know is that people who are black are 10 times more likely to die of homicide when a gun is involved.

Truly these debates show more about the true state of race in America than they do of the verdict themselves. People weren’t marching in the streets holding effigies of Martin because of a single verdict. They were marching because of a long history of unresolved and, too often, unaddressed issues.

This conversation is good and necessary, but cannot wait on tragedy. It must be had in times of peace as it is in times in turmoil. That is why Black History Month is so important, because even though nothing changes as the date changes from Jan. 31 to Feb. 1 at least it presents a forum once a year to stand together and discuss the issue of race in America.

It presents an opportunity to ground the culture, struggle, and contribution of African-Americans in a history that many are illiterate of in America. A history that is often relegated to the footnotes by the eurocentrism of our educational system.

While I still maintain hope that my idealism will one day become reality, we must come to the realization as a nation that the conversation of racism and inequality in America is not over. We will be having it for the rest of our lives. And until we stand united enough, both within ourselves and as members of a diverse society, we must acknowledge, participate and contribute in times of peace if we are to move forward.


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