Just a week or so before the start of Black History Month, my little sister showed me screen shots from a white classmate's Snapchat story, where the girl asked the age-old question, "Why is there a black history month? We don't get a white history month." My sister was deeply triggered; she was very frustrated, and started talking with another (black) classmate on FaceTime about the incident. It was frustrating to me to hear the hurt of these 8th graders, as their young minds tried to articulate and explain why we have Black History Month. I listened in as they shared their lived experiences with racism that their white classmate could never truly understand.
I heard the girls talk a lot about slavery and what our people endured during that time, and state that as the reason we have Black History Month. I began to process to myself how so often, we limit Black history to slavery. But black people are so much more than slavery. I knew then that it was time for me to talk with my sister and help her process.
So what should have been a fun trip to Kohl's to get a cute outfit for her cousin's quarantine/at home sweet 16 birthday dinner turned into us browsing the clothing racks while talking through the racial oppression and trauma of America (see how harmful racial oppression is? It literally has the power to disrupt and steal black joy in the most basic and day to day ways. Black people live this reality DAILY.). I told my sister that while slavery is a part of our history and we recognize and honor our ancestors, the sacrifices they made, and how they persevered, moving our people forward against all odds, this is not the full scope of our history. I explained that Black people have and continue to do remarkable things - invent, discover, create, be the first, break records, give, and sacrifice. And it's not that white people don't do these things, too; what's different is that:
- Black people are often overlooked instead of recognized and/or celebrated for their contributions,
- Black people's success is often co-opted and appropriated by, and/or credited to others (often white people), and
- it must be acknowledged that the playing field is completely unleveled, making it rightful and necessary to intentionally create ways and spaces that highlight black history because of the fact that racism is systemic, and systems and structures have and continue to work against Black people.
When the "Father of Black History," Carter G. Woodson, had the idea for "Negro History Week," the purpose was to celebrate a group of people who many felt had no place in history. A people who were stolen from their homes and forced into slavery. A people who were denied their freedom. A people who weren't even considered whole people. A people who were denied civil rights. A people who were denied education. A people who were denied employment. A people who are oppressed, abused, and murdered simply for the color of their skin. A people who are denied access and resources. And yet a people who invent, create, and discover things that have changed and continue to change the day to day life and quality of life in America and the world. A people who have and continue to contribute to some of the most enjoyed aspects of American culture. A people who push down barriers and break ceilings that pave the way for not only black people, but the entire country and world, to move forward. A people who find and share joy despite the hatred that comes against them everyday. A people who continue to prove themselves loyal to this country when the feeling is yet to be mutual.
So that, my little sister, is why we celebrate Black History Month.
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