My senior year of high school, I was with my dad when he was pulled over for running a stop sign. Instead of being met with the face of an officer as he rolled the window down he was met with two guns telling him to pull out his license and registration. Fear was evident in the officer’s eyes before my father even opened his mouth.
I remember paying close attention to both officers, afraid to blink as I watched shaking fingers hover over a trigger that had the power to make my mother a widow in one second. How could I ever feel safe in a country where the color of brown skin puts sworn officers on edge when they see someone like me?
It’s been four years since this event with my dad and I still feel the same. So, when a professor asked in class, do we still need Black History Month – aren’t African Americans part of American history? I had to disagree. We still need Black History month because we aren’t represented fairly in society.
Black History month was created by Carter G. Woodson to remind African Americans that we have a history that we can take pride in regardless of how the world paints us.
Since 1619, there has been a blatant disregard for the lives of black people. We’ve always had to have groups dedicated to protecting, advancing, teaching and praising our lives specifically. From the NAACP to UNCF, we’ve had to remind America that our lives matter too. With the development of the organization ‘Black Lives Matter’ white people have been forced to deal with a reality that has been the African American narrative since slavery – exclusion. Separate entities always have to be created to show support for a “black issue.”
February is a celebration. With all the odds stacked against us, we used them as a ladder to reach the top. We’ve gone from working 18 hour days in the cotton fields, to becoming president of the free world. February is a toast between every ancestor that never learned to read or write and every black child in school. February is a light at the end of a tunnel that we aren’t out of yet but proof that things can only get better from here.
There will always be a need for Black History Month because, in 2017, mugshots of slain African Americans are used on the news while their killers are shown in a cap and gown or a uniform.
We’ve earned the right to call February our month because, coming from less than a desirable beginning, we have made many advancements as a race. With the help of people like Willie Lynch, African Americans were supposed to serve their master and keep their mouths shut to the daily injustices we were facing.
A nation that was built on the backs of slaves can never truly consider African Americans to be more than second class citizens.
The history of my blackness is painful and hard to find, as no records were kept for slaves. As I research black history, I find pictures that turn my stomach as I see black bodies being hung from trees as smiling white faces surround them, it’s disheartening.
But through the agony, we continue to advance. Determination is intertwined in the branches of our family trees while resilience is in our roots.
Black History Month is essential to African American culture because, for decades, we were taught to feel insignificant. We had to go to battle for basic human rights that white people were handed at birth. History has shown us that America doesn’t want us here, it has painted us as violent, loud, angry, athletic animals that are only good for dunking a ball or writing a rhyme, ironic. You can’t cheer for us on Sunday nights but then condemn us Monday morning when we are slain in the street by an officer that was “just doing his job.” America is silent when it’s time to talk about the racial injustice African Americans face regarding housing, the justice system and even the treatment of black kids in schools, but when it comes to NFL players kneeling during the national anthem, they are ready to take up arms.
Black History Month is a reminder that we have to continue to overcome tremendous obstacles, but prove it is possible because we’ve seen it done. This month reminds us all how essential equality is and how we will never be a great nation until all groups of people have equal rights. We have to continue to advocate for issues that challenge our freedoms, even for something as small as using the bathroom. History has shown us that it was never just about the bathroom anyway.