I didn’t have any role models growing up. I didn’t pay much attention to entertainers and athletes, and there weren’t many historical figures I felt comfortable with idolizing. Being of a mixed-raced heritage, I felt it was inappropriate to look up to someone who wasn’t of a similar ethnic background. Culture and language originate from one’s ethnic background and having a role model of a role model of a different background can cause a dissonance; I think I understood this intuitively, and came to the realization that my discomfort was a matter of race.
I realized that despite celebrating Black History Month for over 20 years, my grasp of black history was poor. The majority of my knowledge came from middle school and high school, where I only learned about slavery, the Harlem Renaissance, and the Civil Rights Movement. The problem is with textbook writers who only highlight up to two historical figures to conserve space. This is done instead of crediting (even by name) the writers, thinkers, and other leaders who contributed to the success of a movement. This practice makes black history dull. Black history is more diverse than a concentration on a few historic people
One of the biggest enemies to the introduction of more black people in history are those who claim to be “colorblind;” these people claim to see no race and focus on the individual. But if one ignores a person’s race they turn their head to the struggles an individual experienced in being a minority. Issues black people and other minority groups face are wide ranging. It’s not uncommon to hear about cases of police brutality on the news. It didn’t take me long to realize that the problem was deeper than that. It was a study by the Student Impact Project, an organization aimed at helping students, that highlighted a core issue:
“Our models project that, holding all else equal, an African American male needs some college credit to have a similar probability of employment as a white male high school dropout. Similar trends exist among women.”
If people claim to not see one’s race, they are disregarding this and similar issues that black people and other minority groups face. And so I realized that before I could be content with someone to not seeing race, I had to first show them that the racial equality they think exists, doesn’t. We needed to then enlist their help in gaining awareness of our struggles and pains. They would have to put all of their effort in achieving racial equality before I would be content in letting them become “colorblind” but in doing so they will realize that they can no longer be blind to race.
Black History Month is as much about the present as it is about the past and as such I had to take a moment to look into the Black Lives Matter (BLM) Movement. This movement has caused controversy though the peculiar way it operates and how radical it seems. When most people look at BLM all they see is an unorganized, violent movement and they will often contrast it with the Civil Rights Movement. That is to say that some think that the Civil Rights Movement was some carefully planned and peaceful movement. This, too, is far from the truth. Even Martin Luther King used purposefully confrontational methods to incite a reaction to gain recognition to the cause. One of these methods was organized marches in America’s most racist cities. Citizens and police both were filled with tension as black people and black civil rights supporters marched down main roads. The tension was often so severe that the police saw fit to respond through bullets and attack dogs.
The BLM has also brought about a new age of “respectability politicians”. They are those who believe say that the majority won’t respect the minority until they dress and act respectfully. On the surface, this would seem like a sensible idea. Martin Luther King Jr. would prove to be a good example of this; he was always in a suit and tie and managed great change. To those cite Martin Luther King Jr.as an example to the efficacy of respectability politics would however seem to forget that he was assassinated in a suit. The path to respect isn’t through acting like the majority, it is through being strong in our culture and the things that make our culture unique.
This is why we must stand together as Black History Month reminds us to. We as black people should stand together and realize that despite the various definitions of what it means to be black, we are still black. We are a people of a common destiny who still to this day have to fight not just to be equally represented but equally treated. The road ahead to that goal will be difficult, but Black History Month reminds us that all black movements had its share of difficult times. And through the paving of that new road will create a new history, a new black history to be celebrated.