Tuesday, May 18, 2021

LETTER: Black History Month is over. Where do we go from here?

March 3, 2015

Most of us, at the close of January, were probably questioning our staunch devotion to resolutions made, feigning our commitment to the mantra of starting the semester off strong, counting the days until the ever-so-elusive spring break, or performing an artful combination of the three.

Oh, and watching Netflix. Lots and lots of Netflix.

Somewhere amidst this spiral of things, however, we got to the month of February — the shortest month of the year, also widely observed as Black History Month. For a long 28 days, we paid our dutiful, very selective attention to historical black figures who made significant contributions to this country.

In 1926 Carter G. Woodson proposed Negro History Week, but for the last 39 years, we have demonstrated our absolute respect for black people by acknowledging them for not one, not two, but FOUR momentous weeks. Congratulations.

Same as every February, right on schedule, we pulled out our trusted quotes of love, equality and peace. We chanted those four, larger-than-life words — “I have a dream” — often failing to recognize that in many respects our nation is still sleeping (see segregation indexes, voter identification laws, secondary labor markets, etc.).

We plastered our most prized pictures of Martin, maybe Malcolm, maybe Garvey, never Ella or Fannie Lou or Bayard, on walls, pages and timelines with the utmost pride.

We shouted, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” while black bodies, criminalized and underrepresented, funneled into our prison population (see The New Jim Crow).

We repeated the rhetorical hymns of “Let Freedom Ring” and “content of my character.”

We exclaimed that now little black boys and black girls can join hands with little white boys and white girls as brothers and sisters. We called this progress.

We failed to mention that this reality is being compromised and that black students are suspended and expelled at a rate three times greater than white students.

Still, we recited the speech — not the full speech, of course — but the parts that fit into our linear, egalitarian narrative of racial progress in America. We omitted lines such as,We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality” and “America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked insufficient funds.”

Those lines did not serve our purposes. We replaced reparations with reverie. We ignored King’s assertion that “America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned,” perhaps out of honest ignorance, maybe out of the cringe-worthy, collegiate fear evoked by the word default.

For 28 days, we shared our palatable versions of black history.

And now, February is over.

Now that there is no longer a nationally mandated commitment to foregrounding the narratives of very particular black peoples, can we begin to explore black history thoroughly, rigorously and maybe the most important, holistically?

Now that the critical exploration of black plights, successes and histories is no longer an obligatory and societal venture, can we begin to question some of those routine practices referenced above?

Or is it back to business as usual?

The immediate past, if nothing else, has revealed to us that our nation has yet to genuinely confront the relationship it has with race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, class and their inherent politicization.

The social turmoil that persists in this nation correlates directly to the suppression of marginalized peoples in a society that gallantly parades the ideas of truth, justice and freedom.

If we truly believe the moral arc of the universe bends toward justice, then we must begin to acknowledge and actively listen to the voices of the oppressed.

We must listen with the intent to understand and rectify. We must counter passivity and silence. We must unearth the rich, nuanced narratives of black struggle and agency that are further subdued by sexism, heteronormativity and gender binaries. We must learn and honor the diversity within blackness.

This requires more than just a four-week stint in black history, couched in neoliberalism. This requires introspection, empathy, courage, compassion, understanding and sincerity.

So, congratulations again. We made it through February.

Now we have another 11 months to go.

#BlackHistoryYear

Rashad Timmons is a journalism senior at MSU and the president of Black Student Alliance

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