In honor of Black History Month, Assistant Professor of School Counseling Cameka Hazel, Ed.D., writes about why the month-long celebration is still relevant in present-day America.
Black History Month Allows for Celebration of Blacks’ Success
The celebration of Black History Month allows us to recognize the accomplishments and resilience of many historical figures. This is a time to celebrate those who broke generational and systemic barriers and paved a better way for the future of Black America, even all Americans, regardless of race. There are many worthy of such celebration and bravery, namely Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, Ida B. Wells, and Ruby Bridges, among others. It is through their foundational legacy, even as I write this as a Black woman, that I am able to hold a faculty position in academia. This is a rare opportunity. According to current research, a mere 6 percent of Blacks account for all faculty across colleges and universities in the United States (National Center for Education Statistics, 2022). But without that foundation, I might not have been able to achieve such an accomplishment. Or, as it is often said, we stand only on the shoulders of giants.
Black History Month Brings Awareness of Work Needing to Be Done
Black History Month undoubtedly brings awareness to the past, present, and conditions that contribute to the current climate of Black Americans’ existence within society. Although, as a nation we have made notable improvements with regard to the political treatment of Blacks, unfortunately, this change is merely the tip of the iceberg. Vast social transformative work remains undone, and for this purpose, the acknowledgment of Black History Month remains extremely important. The physical chains are broken, but evidence of the mental and systemic chains still linger, causing obstacles to the attainment of social progress for many Black Americans. Many would agree that this nation is still a work in progress, and bringing awareness helps to mitigate some of these existing challenges.
Enables Room for Difficult Conversations
Black History Month allows for the continuation of conversations around how Blacks were, and still are, treated unfairly. It calls for the need for continuous policy reform to remedy the inequity and inequality still in existence. Heartbreakingly, research continues to show increased reporting of police brutality, discrimination of Blacks in the mortgage/housing sectors, and discrimination in the labor sector. For example, Blacks are paid less than their white counterparts in equally comparable jobs and there is ongoing discrimination within the justice system, where Black men are more likely to be incarcerated when committing the same crime as their white counterparts. These issues are still at the core of our society, and Black History Month helps us to see the need for continuous advocacy and reform to achieve equality for all.
Black History Month Allows for Continuous Education about American History
Unfortunately, many still believe that slavery was merely a historical event. And since emancipation—Juneteenth—Blacks are now free. There are those who believe the constant discussion of race in America prevents true equality and contributes to racial division. It is precisely these reasons why we must continue to educate the nation that systems of oppression do not merely disappear but evolve and take different forms if not effectively addressed. In the 1800s, the problem was slavery. When the slaves were freed, a new problem arose: Jim Crow, and with it, segregation. When the Civil Rights Movement emerged, Jim Crow became unconstitutional, but today we are left with mass incarceration and police brutality. Black history is a reminder of our past tragedies, and those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it.
Black History Month Allows for Truth-Telling and Dispelling False Narratives
In honoring Black History Month, we enable the stories of Black Americans to remain current and continue to give a voice to the voiceless. As the nation is enlightened, false narratives, such as the belief that Critical Race Theory is racist, are challenged. Black History Month, at its core, challenges racism. Black History Month allows for truth-telling. The truth of a promising country with a very ugly past. One plagued with bloody segregation, persecution, and violence due to the color of one’s skin. While Black history is a painful look back, it is a necessary turn. One filled with tears as well as triumphs. Black History Month calls for us to learn from the past in order to secure a just future that so many died trying to achieve. What comes next lies entirely in our hands.