By Jamie Kirk
As we celebrate Black History Month in 2018, we are facing challenges; very similar to those of the past, some not. Once again white nationalism and bigotry are a threat to marginalized groups of people. But unlike before, more white people are realizing that they are equally responsible for preparing themselves and their children to fight injustice, as black people have done forever.
It feels like the last 365 days have been used to slowly remove the progress that we’ve made over the last 300 years. Harmful, divisive rhetoric can be seen on every talk show, read in any comment section, and overhead in any public conversation. It’s reminiscent of the climate mentioned by Martin Niemöller in his widely quoted “First They Came.” piece. It feels as if no one is safe.
Similarly, no one is absolved from the responsibility of resisting all the hatred that stands before us. We cannot hide.
Preparation for tough times is nothing new to many black people. Through the centuries, we’ve had to continue pressing on through enslavement, lynchings, and segregation. Now, we continue to do so through police brutality, wealth inequality, and mass incarceration.
Black people have never had the choice to fight for their rights and the right to be treated fairly. This was a right taken away from us, and replaced with the need to fight for our rights and the need to be treated fairly. Daily, the fight against injustice is front and center and cannot be “opted-out” of. It’s not an insurance elective or the extended warranty on your car; it is mandated that we do what is necessary to allow injustice to lose its stronghold in our society.
Historically, Black History Month has been seen as an opportunity for black folks to stop, look and listen with a dedicated focus on the power and lineage from which we hail. It is true, black Americans’ accomplishments have been long overlooked in this nation. But that isn’t new information to black Americans – a quick conversation with our grandparents on the cost of integrating the education system will tell that story. Thankfully the mainstream media is putting dollars and sense, oops, cents behind the effort of telling many of the untold stories in history. Movies like The Great Debaters, Hidden Figures, and Black Panther are all examples of the Hollywood suits realizing our story should be recognized and celebrated.
In the past, Black History Month has existed to remind us of the greatness we didn’t know we possessed. But in the era of #Blackgirlmagic and #Blackexcellence twitter trends, we see it. Black History Month is worth honoring and celebrating, but black people have expanded beyond our 28-day celebration, and it is our duty to pass the gift on to neighbors, co-workers, bosses, and alas – our children (or nieces, nephews, and cousins, etc.) that may exist in our family structure.
In 2018, I believe Black History Month has an altered purpose. In addition to showing the persistence of black Americans, it provides an opportunity for white people to get even more educated not only about the contributions made by black Americans but also to give them an insight to the circumstances that led to the creation of this month. Fully understanding that the precursor to Black History Month was created in 1926 in the United States when Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life announced the second week of February to be “Negro History Week.” The week was chosen because it coincided with the birthday of Abraham Lincoln on February 12th and the birthday of Frederick Douglass born on February 14th.
If you’re a white person that has “black friends” (which I hate that expression by the way) in America who wants to know how to have an impactful role in the deconstruction of white supremacy as it is now, celebrate Black History Month. And celebrate it beyond just 11 out of 12 months. We can be united in our approach, steadfast and unwavering in our acknowledgment of the contribution made by many and our commitment to liberty and justice for all; not sometimes, not when it’s convenient, not when it’s easy, but each and every time the need arises.
Black History Month provides education to white Americans who are unaware of the social, systemic and personal grievances experienced by the descendants of African slaves. The current white nationalist movement is based on hatred, fear of change and, more importantly, willful ignorance. Each and every one of us has the responsibility and the accountability to make sure children are educated in our history enough so that ignorance doesn’t grow. And fester. It starts with us and should be spread to people we touch that may need to be educated or re-educated on the history of black folks.
We need white Americans to use this month (and all others) to speak with their communities and their children and educate those in your circle about the differences between prejudice and racism. White nationalism did not develop overnight. It was cultivated through silence.
Each Black History Month exists as a call to action. It is our opportunity to study the connecting thread between the struggles of the past and the transformations of today. By educating ourselves and others around us, we can hopefully reduce the number of people we see proudly chanting hateful messages and carrying tiki torches. Black History Month exists as an opportunity to remind everyone else that black individuals have value and black lives matter, along with all other lives.
And lastly, don’t just give Black History Month your approval by lip service. Go into an underserved area and ask what you can do. Volunteer in areas that have poor voter turn out and share copies of how the State and Local Government officials, can influence change. Model compassion and a commitment to justice at home, even when you don’t get credit for it, for you never know who is being impacted by your decision to to-the-right-thing.
Let’s all give it the old college try and spend more concentrated efforts on studying black history, and becoming more familiar with Black History Month and the impact it has on our own life. We have to continue to force change and strive to make things better. We have to come together and not allow someone, or someone’s to divide us into thinking this month is ONLY about the history of blacks, but it is the history of how both cultures have and need to continue to coexist in harmony and positive contributions to this great nation.
Jamie Kirk works for a software company and is a certified spinning instructor. He also enjoys yoga, swimming, bicycling and running. He aspires to start a blog about what we put in our bodies not only fuels our body but our mind and spirit as well. Follow Jamie on IG @tysonsdad.