Every February, African-American communities have the opportunity to embrace their history and reflect on the legacy inspiring figures left behind.
However, we have to create a space of intersectionality, which refers to ways that oppressive social institutions (racism, sexism, and homophobia to name a few) interconnect.
If we incorporate black history into the general curriculum of our education system, more young people can see themselves represented in history.
To understand black culture, we have to examine how it crosses over with other subcultures. People have multiple unique identities that make them who they are. Oppressors can discriminate based on these identities, making it hard for people of color struggling against not only racism, but classism, ableism, and homophobia. Often times we can neglect these different identities when we acknowledge our black history. Many of the figures that we focus on during Black History Month are black, heterosexual, middle-class men.
In the classroom, we sometimes don’t get the opportunity to examine other integral black leaders. Bayard Rustin was a black LGBT leader who organized the March on Washington. Rustin was arrested in 1953 for homosexual activity. Despite criticism from other civil rights leaders, Rustin continued to serve as an advisor behind the scenes of the Civil Rights Movement. He then went on to advocate for LGBT causes in the 1980s.
Women of color struggled with a combination of sexism and racism. But they overcame this, and made movements to change the face of America. Black women in particular have an excellent opportunity to reflect on significant female figures in our history. Being able to see someone who looks like you create history is so groundbreaking for many young girls. Often times in school, we are taught about the many white men and women who wrote history. Black History Month presents the opportunity to highlight women of color as role models.
Black women have been trailblazers since the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement. Women like Fannie Lou Hamer encouraged blacks to get out, register, and vote. She was threatened, arrested, beaten, and shot. She sacrificed it all for equality. She dedicated her life to the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, an organization of mostly black students who engaged in civil disobedience. She then helped to found the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, which brought the civil rights struggle to the forefront at the time. But many people don’t know her name.
The number of black accomplishments the general public can name is low. There are so many black individuals that we don’t acknowledge and this can be contributed largely to the fact that every February, students learn about the same figures. This has to change.
Taylor Dumpson, a law and society sophomore at American University, said February shouldn’t be the only month we celebrate black history.
“We shouldn’t exclusively talk about the success of black people during February,” she said. “We will be more successful in the end when people can see the value and the effort that people like themselves put into every facet of society during every month of the year.”
And this means we have to talk about the diversity within diversity. We have to talk about our women leaders, our LGBT trailblazers, and our innovators that don’t always fit the mold. Students have to be able to see themselves in leaders of the past in order to be leaders of the future. We cannot keep suppressing our past because certain aspects of it make us uncomfortable. We should keep the discussion up all year long.
And the only way to do that is talk about it. Have a discussion with your friends, families, roommates, and neighbors. Black history is American history. We have to learn to critically examine it from all angles in order to better bring together this nation under our common history. No matter what color your skin is, you should definitely take the time to appreciate the contributions that black people have made to the country. And not just this month, but any time you reflect on our history as Americans.