Sunday, October 9, 2016

Why Black History Month still matters in the 21st century

African-American Millennials say they never really learned anything useful during Black History Month activities at school, and they fret that having a formal, month-long observance gives the nation a pass to ignore black history the rest of the year.— Shreveport Times

Today's black youth are so far removed from the events recapitulated during Black History Month that some may question whether Black History Month is still relevant to them?. Obviously, those who think this way have never heard of George Santayana who famously said:
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
What self-respecting people throws away its history? It would be foolish to do so. Every generation needs to know from whence it came in order to determine its future course. No one questions if the Revolutionary War or the Holocaust are still relevant today? Black History Month serves to remind blacks as well as whites of how far we've come as a nation since the dark days of slavery, Jim Crow, and segregation. Not only that, Black History Month gives blacks a chance to tell their history from their own point of view with no holds barred.

Without a doubt, blacks have an important place in American history whenever the story of America is told. Black History Month plays homage to this fact, and documents it. And while it may be inspiring, indeed, instructive to look in the rear view mirror of black history from time to time, each generation is responsible for confronting the vexing issues of their day, finding their own solutions, and taking their place alongside history. For 21st century blacks, this means speaking out about resurgent issues of racial inequality and social injustice that are not unlike those endured by earlier generations of blacks some 100 years ago in America. Black History Month should motivate 21st century blacks to continue confronting American society until these conditions no longer exist. We can't afford to take the pressure off. Freedom is too important a right to accept anything less..
Up from slavery, black lives have always mattered.
To do away with Black History Month would be like "cutting off our nose to spite our face." Black youth need Black History Month to understand their rightful place in the struggle for racial equality and social justice for their own generation.  The freedom mantle has been passed to a new generation. The question these 21st century blacks must ask themselves is not how far they've come, but where they're headed?

Black History Month recitations must move beyond reciting Dr Martin Luther King Jr's, "I Have A Dream" speech to the question King himself posed in his last book, "Where Do We go From Here: Chaos or Community? "  In that 1967 book, Dr King described the then state of black people in America as follows:
  • Half of all Negroes live in substandard housing
  • Negroes have half the income of whites
  • There are twice as many Negroes unemployed
  • The rate of infant mortality among Negroes is double that of whites
  • In elementary schools, Negroes lag one to three years behind whites
  • One twentieth as many Negroes as whites attend college
  • Of employed Negroes, 75 percent hold menial jobs
The question blacks need to ask of themselves is "How much has changed since Dr King made those observations?"

According to former Harvard professor and theologian Cornel West not much has changed from 1967 to now, despite having a black president in the White House. West has been critical of President Barack Obama for what he says is "a perceived lack of quantifiable social and economic progress in poorer black communities."
Black people have suffered more in this age than in the recent past. Empirical indices of infant mortality rates, mass incarceration rates, mass unemployment and dramatic declines in household wealth reveal this sad reality. How do we account for this irony? It goes far beyond the individual figure of President Obama himself, though he is complicit; he is a symptom, not a primary cause. Although he is a symbol for some of either a post-racial condition or incredible Black progress, his presidency conceals the escalating levels of social misery in poor and Black America. —Black Prophetic Fire (Beacon Press) by Cornel West.
In 2014, The National Urban League released the 38th edition of "The State of Black America"  a report that details economic disparities impeding black progress— unemployment and underemployment, two strong indicators of growth and progress. Without question, there are large disparities between blacks and whites on all social and economic indices.

In the short span of 50 years, the outcry of blacks has gone from "We shall overcome" to "Black lives matter" reflecting a worsening of social and economic conditions in the black community. Without a Black History Month, 21st century blacks would have no idea how these two protests are inter-connected. A newly opened National Museum of African American History and Culture on the National Mall in Washington, DC provides a more permanent and accessible archive for everyone to study black history and its place in the history of America. If Black History Month has anything to teach America about its racially troubled past, it is this— the struggle against racial inequality and for social justice is one that we, as a nation, must win together.
I don't feel no ways tired, I've come too far from where I started from. Nobody told me that the road would be easy, I don't believe He brought me this far to leave me.— Curtis Burrell