February: Black History Month
This year Black History Month has been particularly interesting to me. I feel like there’s this conflicting duality going on. One side being a real support and revival for the value of Black people and their contributions and the other, the neglect of ever present threats to the future of continued Black success in America.
In general, we’re seeing an increase in civic engagement, a mobilization of people from all backgrounds rallying around each other to lift up our diverse needs and causes. There’s finally been this necessary increase in dialogue around issues like education, police brutality, wealth distribution, and voting rights. We’re finally affirming things like the value of Black life and the diversity in standards of beauty. We’re seeing more Black representation in film, on television, in fashion, and in literature. When I sit still long enough to think about the accomplishments made in the face of insurmountable odds, I get a bit overwhelmed. There’s this swelling pride in my chest as I read about little known civil rights figures, watch documentaries, or even footage from President Obama’s election and inauguration. It all feels so big, and great, and significant, and it feels like we’ve made it so far.
And then, I turn on the television….
The news will bring you back to earth quick. With each news broadcast and story I’m faced with the glaring orange truth of an elected president who doesn’t reflect any of the great progress made. One who in fact thinks all Black people live in abhorrent poverty, in violence plagued inner cities, to one parent households. An elected leader who refers to the whole of Black people as “the Blacks”, and seems to collect them callously for photo op purposes only. His manner towards Black people aside, I’m equally concerned with what his proposed policies and leadership say about attitudes towards the Black community, and ultimately how the next chapter of Black History will be defined. His chosen VP marked the start of Black History Month with a tweet honoring a white man after all.
Adding injury to insult, we have a Secretary of Education who doesn’t believe in public schooling, an institution already in dire constraints and sometimes the only option for many Black children. A Secretary of Housing and Urban Development with no experience with the living conditions faced by many Black families. An Attorney General deemed too racist in 80’s and somehow magically (fictionally) less racist now? And finally policies threatening to defund institutions like Planned Parenthood, a true champion for female healthcare and family planning for some Black women. These factors are just a drop in the bucket, but represent the many very real concerns that will shape the future.
Ignoring issues and concerns that still plague many Black communities is taken a step further when many assume that because we had a Black President racism is suddenly over. The Cheeto-in-Chief has unknowingly (or knowingly) contributed to the resurgence of multiple hate groups that all but carry a new banner for racism and prejudice in America.
We’ve come a long way, but there’s still so much more to be done. So much more to be passionate about and take a stand for. Maybe now more than ever before, there’s a call for new Black leaders, innovators, pioneers, and trailblazers. In the face of a new threat there’s opportunity to make a new mark on Black History; and if I’ve learned anything about my community it is our prevalent will to transcend. So the duality rages on, we celebrate the progress and accomplishments made by Black pioneers in this country while staying ever vigilant on how today’s decisions will affect our collective “Black Future”.
After thought: This contrast in many ways has just made me more eager to know my history. Lest it be erased by the future education system or disputed with fake news. Here are some of the stories that help fuel me to be more proactive in contributing to making Black History for the future:
I Am Not Your Negro- a documentary on James Baldwin
Maya Angelou: And Still I rise- a PBS documentary on the legendary Maya Angelou
13th – Academy Award Nominated Documentary by Ava DuVernay
The Talk: Race in America – Documentary on Race and families in America
Written by Autumn Gilliam
A chameleon by nature and have learned to adapt quickly to new and challenging work environments. Growing up, she was fortunate enough to travel all around the world and meet a wealth of diverse and fascinating people. You can review more of her writings at her blog.