Black History month is one where we are unified and acknowledge the African American communities accomplishments. They have shown diligence in representing, liberating and pushing the black communities success forward for generations to come. As a community that works relentlessly towards the liberation of Palestine, we have the utmost respect for the black community and take inspiration from their efforts and successes as the years have gone by.
This February marks the 46th year of celebrating Black History Month. So, what exactly are we celebrating?
Black History Month is not the result of past US presidents and their actions of change. It is not a result of Abraham Lincoln signing the Emancipation Proclamation. It is not a result of Lyndon B. Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act in 1965, nor is it a result of JFK introducing it in ‘63 because he was “sympathetic to African-American citizens”. It is not the result of President Gerald Ford, **stating that America should “honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans throughout our history.” It is not a result of any performative American activism to recognize the struggle of liberation and centuries of sacrifice. Black History Month is not the result of a white man in power.
Inspired by Black historian, Carter G. Woodson, Black History Month actually comes from Negro History Week - a school establishment founded in 1926. Negro History Week was dedicated to being a discussion-based and demonstrative week for students to tell all they learned about Black history during the academic school year. In efforts of this special week, Woodson hoped that in the near future, people wouldn’t need to have this brief reminder to honor Black stories.
Since 1926, the integration of Black history in educational institutions has been quite underwhelming - and racist. Over the past 40 years, American education systems have been referencing Black history in the most white-washed form. In fact, I remember my primary and secondary teachers making the Boston Tea Party lesson last more days than the Civil Rights movement lesson. It’s not even that every single one of my history teachers growing up was white (literally, I’ve never had a Black teacher), it’s the way because they were white, they ignored major historical truths in the curriculum. The same way American teachers belittle Black history is the same way they never taught us who Christoper Columbus really was or what really happened to Native Americans. The filtration of Black history simply seems more ‘palatable’ for white teachers to teach and it is necessary that we redefine those expectations in classroom settings.
Because we’ve spoken too little about the truths behind Black moments and movements since their beginnings, it is critical that we continue to educate ourselves on the importance of Black history, Black culture, and what it’s like to be Black in America today. Here are a few concepts you might not know enough about:
What is Juneteenth? The abolition of slaves, now a US holiday considered as “Freedom Day”, was announced on June 19th, 1865. Although it was anticipated to be established nationally within the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, thousands of enslaved communities could not obtain and optimize their freedom for at least 2 years after (Britannica).
Who are the Black Panthers? Growing up in history class, you might have been misled the truth about the Civil Rights Legislation of the 1960s. This legislation didn’t end the racism of African Americans in the US, so they had to solve it somehow, on their own, again. The Black Panther Party (BPP) was founded by activists Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton. With the help of the Lowndes County Freedom Organization, the founders decided on the mascot of a Black Panther in order to symbolize “courage, determination, and freedom”. They also used the Black Panther as a response to the racially motivated white rooster (in support of white supremacy) - the mascot of the Alabama Democratic Party. Today, the BPP movement has left a legacy for the identities of incredible Black militants and Black political activists in America. (Britannica).
What is Black Girl Magic? Despite every single account of injustice in the history of the United States, Black culture has never changed itself to be accepted. Black culture, especially Black Girl Magic and Black Excellence has refused to fall into the narrative of this country. This notion is rooted in the contributions of Black culture to American history and lifestyles (including art, sport, language, etc). Cashawn Thompson, the creator of #BlackGirlMagic, says the purpose of the movement was to “counteract the negativity that we sometimes hold within ourselves placed on us by the outside world." It is a positive outlet for Black women and young girls to recognize their beauty and brains. (BBC)
What is Black Lives Matter? As a national movement essentially exclusive to the United States, Black Lives Matter is an “intervention in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise”. Following protests of police brutality and racist and deadly violence against Black citizens, the BLM community has grown exponentially and created a call to action across the entire country since 2013. (BLM).
Last note —> Of course celebrating accomplishments is both positive and motivating. But it is just as important, if not more, to accept and admit the horrors that Black history was fighting against then and what they’re fighting against now. Systemic racism is reformed into a new shape today and we should all be aware of it. Do not just learn about Black history in February. Do not think about MLK just because you get a day off. And don’t engage in performative activism. This celebratory month is a great opportunity to recenter our admiration and support for Black History, but those same intentions should continue for longer than just one moment in the year.
“The thing about Black history is that the truth is so much more complex than anything you could make up.” — Henry Louis Gates
About the Author:
Layan Beirat is a Chicago based blogger whose Paliroots are found in both Kufer Malik and Beit Safafa, Palestine!