Black History Month is a celebration of Black people and their many achievements throughout our nation’s history. The month is dedicated to celebrating figures such as Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rutgers’s own Paul Robeson for their contributions to American society.
And it all feels a bit disingenuous.
For starters, relegating the importance of Black history to just one month of the year is asinine. While the intentions of the occasion seem noble on the surface, it has become a loose attempt at reparation from a nation which has historically treated its Black individuals like second-class citizens and still often does.
How can a country so intertwined with racism, so historically marred to slavery and Jim Crow, pretend to honor the accomplishments and contributions of its Black citizens while it perpetuates systemic racial violence?
The real function of Black History Month, as planned by its originator Carter G. Woodson, was to create a broader public knowledge of Black America’s long and storied past.
“(Woodson) believed that appreciating a people’s history was a prerequisite to equality. He wrote of the commemoration, ‘If a race has no history, if it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world,’” according to Time Magazine.
If the intention of Black History Month is to work toward full equality for Black people (and by extension, other minority groups), how can we sit idly by and celebrate if there is still so much work to do? We cannot pretend to venerate the past of Black society if we do not work toward correcting the many ills it still faces.
Black people still face discrimination in the workplace, being paid less than their white counterparts.
“In 2017, Black men were paid only 69.7 cents on the white male dollar. Meanwhile, in 2000, Black women were paid 60.8 cents on the white male dollar, and by 2017, that number remained entirely unchanged. This means that there has been no progress on closing racial pay gaps since 2000,” according to the Economic Policy Institute.
Progress in the workplace is not slow, but completely nonexistent.
The systemic racism against Black communities is not only perpetuated through the private sector, but also enacted by the American state itself. Police brutality is a leading cause of death for young Black males.
“(Approximately) 1 in 1,000 Black men and boys in America can expect to die at the hands of police, according to a new analysis of deaths involving law enforcement officers. That makes them 2.5 times more likely than white men and boys to die during an encounter with cops,” according to The Los Angeles Times.
That study was led by Rutgers Professor Frank Edwards, who said, “That 1-in-1,000 number struck us as quite high … That’s better odds of being killed by police than you have of winning a lot of scratch-off lottery games,” according to the article.
Such a disparity is unacceptable and an indication that Jim Crow never really ended, but simply morphed.
That same article goes on to say that Latinx men, Black women and Native American people are all also killed by police at higher rates than their white counterparts.
America cannot be satisfied with the current state of its Black community. It cannot claim to laud Black history while ignoring the same indignities subjected upon that community by America's racist past and present.
Black History Month also ignores another key point: Black history is American history. They are not just a part of the American story, but co-authors of it, and boxing their history into a month neglects this fact.
Rutgers students, no matter their race, ethnicity or background, have a responsibility to stand up against the inequality that prevails in modern society. There are numerous campus groups aimed at promoting Black rights, such as the United Black Council, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Black Men’s Collective and the Black Student Union, among numerous others.
There is also an institutional and systematic responsibility to portray Black history the way it is — not just slavery and the civil rights era. Educators must include other historical movements, such as the Black Panthers or the 1992 Los Angeles Riots, in their curriculum in order to demonstrate the full complexity of race relations in America. Additionally, they must expand on the history of Black women and Black LGBTQ+ people.
We are not arguing against celebrating Black history in any sense, only that systemic change must occur prior to memorializing civil rights as an accomplishment of the past.
Rather than use a month of the year to feel better about their guilt, or memorialize an issue far from being solved, privileged people have a responsibility to institute the changes needed to assure full equity among the races.
We all must support these groups and their cause so that one day we can celebrate Black achievements without hypocrisy.
The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 152nd editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.