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The Importance of Black History Month

I was planning to write a tender and somewhat less objectionable article about Black History Month.  But, in light of the video that I viewed yesterday, along with millions of other Americans, I don’t see how I can separate my feelings from the issue.  Some may be wondering, “What does Black History Month have to do with Chad Holley?”   While the concepts behind Black History Month may not have directly influenced the brutal assault by Houston police officers on this solitary black youth, the two are not completely unrelated.  Here’s why (the long version)…

Black History Month (originally Negro History Week) was established in 1926 in an attempt to promote black history learning among the general population.  Before it’s establishment, black faces were systematically left out of American history and black history in education was viewed overall as unimportant and unnecessary.   The message? “We don’t care about black Americans.” Since it’s founding, there has been a ceaseless resistance to learning about black history and the positive images of African Americans that it conjures.  Amazingly, nearly 100 years later, many individuals still fail to see the importance of the holiday, refuse to celebrate it and are disapproving of related efforts that would create transparency between black and white communities.  You can’t argue this point.  One only needs to look and they will find a color line that splits communities, whites on one side of the tracks, blacks on the other.  You also cannot argue that poverty, crime, illness and many more afflictions flow disproportionately to one side of the tracks.  Some would say that the black community brings it on themselves, that Chad Holley deserved what he got because he was a “criminal”, that black youth, by nature, are corrupt.  Alternatively, we could argue that this perception is a result of a lack of education about the black experience in America.
For millions of parents across the country our hearts sank as we watched the relentless attack on Chad Holley.  Two thoughts come to mind instantly.  #1: “OMG!  Are my kids safe?!!!” and #2: “When is this going to stop?!!!”  My mind filled with all the images I’ve seen over the years of black youth being assaulted by police officers (who are supposed to serve and protect).  I thought of the special needs teen in Kalamazoo, Michigan almost three years ago was arrested and had his teeth knocked out by an officer for spitting on the ground at the bus station near my home.  I recalled the 15 year old girl in Florida being arrested, punched in the face and pepper sprayed by an officer for being out after curfew.  The list goes on and becomes too numerous to recount here, especially when wounds go so deep.  The simple fact is that many police officers target black youth and assault them and it all continues to be swept under the rug.  But it’s not just officers, the entire criminal justice system is constructed around the belief that black youth (especially males) are “throw aways”.  We lock them up for as long as we can and expect them to somehow be more empathetic and well-adjusted when they leave our jails and prisons, if they leave at all.  The idea that youth are unable to change is ridiculous on it’s own.  Even more ridiculous is the perception that “doing time” could make kids anything other than “hard”.  We know this doesn’t work, so why do we keep pursing this hopeless cycle?  Where is the evidence to show that our criminal justice system is improving the situation?  Are we generating a mass of productive citizens?  Is the fear stricken into the hearts of every person of color in the nation justified?  My husband is a straight and narrow kind of guy, “squeaky clean” by the standards of even the justice system.  But, every night that I lived in Kalamazoo, I feared that he may not come home if police decided to focus their aim in his direction, at his darker skin.  We had dealt with profiling before and were fearful of a “routine” stop going bad.  A passenger is cuffed and searched at gunpoint over an out tail light? I’ll leave readers to speculate.
So why is black history important?
For many, thoughts about discrimination, profiling and police brutality provoke constant reminders of our nation’s dark history.  The sad story of Emmett Till‘s brutal murder is etched in our minds along with lynchings and “White only” signs of the Jim Crow era.  We can recall the assassinations of black civil rights leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.  Sadly, many individuals avoid discussions about discrimination and, more specifically, racism.  This is problematic because our avoidance results in a lack of understanding about the issue and an overall apathy towards the victims of racism and racial profiling.  Apathy then leads to the abuse of our justice system and allows minorities across this country to be victimized, simply because those in power have a skewed view of the facts.  As we know, history tends to repeat itself when we fail to learn from our mistakes.  This is where Black History Month comes in with a solution to the problem.  It can teach us much of what is needed to bridge the gap between racially constructed communities and gives us all the opportunity to acknowledge the contributions that African Americans have made to America.  Put simply, we have the benefit of learning and growing through our mistakes…let’s not allow this opportunity to slip through our fingers.

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