Everyone knows that February in the U.S. is observed as Black History Month. This tradition began nearly 90 years ago when noted scholar and author Carter G.Woodson, himself the son of formerly enslaved Africans declared Negro History Week to highlight and celebrate the contributions of Black people to human history and combat racial prejudice. Though modern observances have become routine and even commercialized, this year we find ourselves in the context of incredible and undeniable Black resistance and resilience – and so there can be no Black History Month as usual.
As a community organizer who holds a degree in History, I understand the fascination with history. However, there is a tendency for many of us to get engrossed in the recounting of our history, which often amounts to purely intellectual activity without material action. In a day and age where every 28 hours a Black person is being killed with impunity, unemployment in Black communities is 12% and Blacks make up 40% of the imprisoned population, we can’t afford to solely commemorate the past. We must seize the opportunity to change the course of history by shaping our future.
Many thought that the abolition of slavery, the end of Jim Crow and the legislative progress of the Civil Rights Era, among other watershed moments, would have fundamentally done away with the racist structures that have long oppressed Black people. However, we know that has been far from the case. There’s been persistent and concerted effort to erode the gains of the Black liberation struggles throughout the years, hindering Black progress. These attacks seem subtle and rational to non-Black communities, as matters of simple policy or social norms. However, they are significant and together constitute structural attacks. Examples included the divestment from the public sector, to attack on labor unions, and laws that criminalize non-violent activity, which leads to obscene rates mass of incarceration.
Anti-Black racism operates at a society wide level and colludes in a seamless web of policies, practices and beliefs to oppress and disempower Black communities. Far from ending, systemic racism reinvents itself to conform to what is publically acceptable. Leaving the quality of Black life diminished and more permanently fixed with each passing decade. And any outcry or attempt to expose this cycle of oppression is often ignored or dismissed by broader US society, because it seems rational or insignificant.
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