What does Black History mean to you?
Observer Viewpoint | Tuesday, January 18, 2005
When first introduced to Black History Month as a youth, I received the fairy-tale version of my descendents who were brought to America. The storyline ran that Africans came as slaves, Lincoln freed them, Martin Luther King Jr. brought about equality and today we can have that “American Dream.” Of course this is in no way comparable to the truth of Black History and does not entail the over three hundred years of pain, suffering and struggling of the descendents of the Africans first brought to this country and surrounding islands as chattel slaves.
Black History Month as well as the color of my skin reminds me of the chosen people who suffered the iniquities and pain brought about by human cruelty. Yet in spite of the enslavement, hatred and abuses placed upon them, they fought and prevailed as best they could. There were many people who died so that my peers and I may have opportunities and inalienable rights that were handed from God and not man.
Black History Month is not just a reminder of Black American History, but of American History. The economy and social order that we see today was built off the backs of the free-labor slaves working 14 hours-a-day for almost 200 years as well as the blacks who were (and are still) denied equal wages and opportunities although they were qualified and performed the same jobs.
I hope that in the future we are all, of every race, reminded that the black race exceeded the expectations of their oppressors. Black Americans, were intended as subhuman – three-fifths human to be exact – and servants in this country, meant to affirm the supposed superiority of white Americans. Yet in spite of it all, the perceived “mules” of society have been able to prevail against immense opposition. These triumphs cost the lives, blood, security and hard work of many Americans.
The struggle has not ended. People assume that because the physical bodies of blacks were emancipated that the mentalities were rehabilitated. We somehow forget that up until 50 years ago the murder, rape, torture and lynching of blacks were pervasive. My grandparents and parents suffered abuses during and prior to the Civil Rights Movement that left them disappointed and heartbroken, yet they were expected to successfully raise me as a black woman in America.
Racism today is veiled in the form of racial profiling, institutional racism and other basic everyday images of black Americans as aggressive people, promiscuous athletes, welfare-abusers and criminals, amongst other things. Yet, again, I am expected to somehow raise children in this society where they will be impacted by the negative images they see of their people through the media and other sources? Until we choose to look at the reality of our social system and the effects that we have on others, it will be impossible to eradicate the existing inequalities of today.
It is my hope and my prayer that we strive individually and collectively to be better humans in search of brotherhood and sisterhood that transcends color lines and connects through the soul. You must learn from the past to reach the future.