Black History Month is a time to celebrate the achievements and history of African-Americans. We should stop and appreciate contributions from historical figures, such as Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass as well as more current figures such as President Barack Obama and LeBron James. It’s important. Acknowledging what African-Americans have done for this country creates a greater sense that Black History is a significant part of American History. Particularly in the current political climate where there is so much division on the basis of color. Observing Black History Month as a country helps to foster greater equality and acceptance. That being said, there is much more we can do, not only to create positive change for African-Americans but for also many other groups that face equality issues.
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Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “In America the white man must love the black man, and the black man must love the white man, because we are all tied together in a single garment of destiny.” Dr. King was telling us that Americans shouldn’t only seek equality but that they should invest in each other across color and ethnic lines. The only way to truly understand someone who is different than you is to take the time to get to know them, with an open mind and an open heart. Truly what Dr. King was describing was what it’s often called today: being an ally. Different people come from different situations and backgrounds, with different needs and social problems. Latin and Hispanic people today are facing massive problems largely attributed to perceptions about their ethnicity. These aren’t new problems and there are major parallels between Latinos, Hispanics and African-Americans in regards to how they have been treated historically. The same thing can be said for other groups such as women, the LGBT community and other ethnic groups. As different as they may seem on the surface, they are all looking for equality. This common thread is part of what ties them all together, they are all striving for the same thing in one way or another.
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How can you be a better ally?
First, start by bringing some new literature into your library. The author James Baldwin writes beautifully insightful literature describing the experience of being Black in America. You can find a short 50-page book of his essays called Dark Days online for less than $5. Second, start shopping at black and minority-owned businesses. This will not only support the business but also help increase employment rates for the communities where they exist, all while giving you the opportunity to gain a greater context for the culture and people. Lastly, maintain an open mindset when talking about these issues and be willing to listen when someone tells you about their own experience. Before inserting your opinion when you hear something you don’t understand or disagree with, ask the person to tell you more about their perspective. This will foster goodwill and lead to a deeper understanding between parties.
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These ideas are simple and that is why they are brilliant. If people can find a way to invest in someone else by getting to know them and understand their struggle for equality, they will be able to relate to each other about equality. Then they can help them try to win their equality when the opportunity presents itself. In doing so they are fighting for their own equality by making progress towards the goal that all men (and women, too) are created equal.
If we spend our time defining ourselves as separate groups with separate goals, then we will always be divided from each other. If we can define ourselves as one group with a common goal, things become somewhat easier. In a fight for equal rights for African-Americans, their voices are given more validation when they are supported and reinforced by those who aren’t African-American. It is the same for other groups as well. If you are wondering what you should take from Black History Month this year, let it be the idea given to us by Martin Luther King Jr. so long ago. We must love each other. Know that allies don’t just support and stand by you, they fight with you. Not because it is your cause, but because it is their cause as well. It is important to fight and stand up for ourselves, but we will see the greatest change when we fight for each other.