Black History Month 2021

Hi, friends. My wrist is still in a cast, and much of my typing strength & focus has gone to paid work lately, but I promise I’m working on some posts in my trusty recycled notebook (so much nicer than typing) and you’ll see more before Feb runs out.

In the interim, I’m sharing our DEI committee’s Black History Month post for 2021. These rituals and their explanations don’t need to be cheesy, boring, or pacifying to the least informed denominator. Here’s ours for this year (we accompanied with recommended books, articles, documentaries, and events).

Why Black History Month?

Black History Month exists because for most of America’s existence, the only recognized history was White history, passed off as national history. To understand why we still need specific attention to African-American History, we need only look at some of the symbols and rhetoric around last month’s attack on the US Capitol.

Many people in the South today have been taught the Lost Cause theory of the Confederacy, that slavery here was just like the slavery sanctioned in the Bible, that Black people were content as slaves. There is no national standard for teaching the comprehensive truth of slavery, Reconstruction, the Jim Crow era, the Civil Rights movement, or other critical obstacles to Black success, like being predominantly excluded from the Homestead Act and the GI Bill (the two broadest economic expansions in US history).

Without those historical facts at their disposal, some people believe the racist narratives that African-Americans have higher rates of poverty because they aren’t as smart or industrious, that they have higher rates of incarceration because they have criminal tendencies, are more susceptible to COVID because they don’t make good decisions. They can tell themselves that Black people do and have had equal access and equal treatment and that any efforts to address proven discrimination is therefore favoring people of color and victimizing Whites. History and facts disillusion us of those lies, and help us better confront the new lies that pop up regularly.

Does loving our country mean lying about it and covering up the things we’ve done? Germany doesn’t think so – the country is full of reminders of the Holocaust, in an effort to prevent it from ever happening again. In contrast, the United States has nearly 2000 monuments to the Confederacy, the side that fought against the United States in order to keep human beings enslaved.

The murder of George Floyd in our own state brought to the forefront ongoing discrimination against Black people, from environmental racism (putting polluting industries in predominantly Black neighborhoods), to people with “Black sounding” names being far less likely to be interviewed for jobs, to the pathologizing and punishment of Black children who behave the same as White children in school, to doctors believing Black people feel less pain, to the racism at all levels of the criminal justice system that has removed and disfranchised Black men, in particular, since Reconstruction.

Ideally our children will learn more than we did, but those of us who are out of school can also educate ourselves, and help others see the facts behind the ignorant opinions we hear regularly. Education is liberation, and liberation is a joyful thing. We hope that Black History Month will soon be a time of celebration, a time simply to honor the achievements and contributions of African-Americans, instead of a necessary and long-overdue reeducation.

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