Written by Cathy Taylor, Dean of Sustainability, Business & Career Technologies at ECC
Black History Month is a time for celebrating the achievements and contributions of Black Americans. Twenty-eight days in February set aside to recognize those who found their place in history despite the odds.
There are many stories to tell, including the arrival of the first Africans in 1619, the slave trade and free labor that built the capitalist economy that we have today, the lynching of Black bodies for no other reason than just because they were Black. Jazz singer Billie Holiday wrote a song about it in 1959 called "Strange Fruit," in which the fruit was about Black bodies "swinging from the poplar trees."
Segregated schools precipitated inadequate and unequal opportunities to a good education, the Jim Crow south, and the Great Migration of Blacks to the North in search of good jobs, housing, and a better way of life. This migration was only met with more discrimination like redlining, public housing, inadequate schools, police brutality, mass incarceration, and no access to social services designed to help the poor but not poor Blacks. The list goes on and on. What is sad is that these injustices, in many forms, still occur today in 2021. Despite all of this, Black Americans continue to defy the odds, engage in acts of resistance, and hold America accountable to the rights and ideals that are written in the Constitution.
Nevertheless, America is not perfect. We still have much work to do. The murders last summer of Breonna Taylor in Louisville and George Floyd in Minneapolis, along with countless other senseless deaths, reminded us that we live in two Americas: one for whites and one for others.
The premise of two Americas is not a new revelation. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered a speech about 'The Other America' in 1968 at Grosse Point High School. He characterized every city in America as having "this kind of dualism, this schizophrenia, split at so many parts." He went on to describe the America that "is the habitat of millions of people who have food and material necessities for their bodies, culture, and education for their minds, freedom and human dignity for the spirits." However, he described the "other America" as "thousands of young people are deprived of the opportunity to get an adequate education…not because they are dumb… but because the schools are so inadequate." In the speech, Dr. King went on to talk about unemployment and the plight of Black Americans living in poverty amid so much material prosperity. Moreover, this is the speech in which Dr. King validated the riots as "the language of the unheard" and asked, "what is it America has failed to hear?"
Like the calls for social justice we witnessed last summer, Dr. King asserted in 1968 that "America has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met…that large segments of white Americans are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity." Dr. King closed the speech by asserting that the first thing America must do is get rid of racism. However, getting rid of racism is not easy when history shows America was founded on a lie.
When the founding fathers wrote the Constitution, we now know many were slave owners themselves. Therefore, they did not view their slaves as human but as property, thus removing their humanity. Author Jim Wallis writes about this in a 2016 New York Times bestseller, America's Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America. In a blog interview published five years ago, Wallis said the most controversial portion of the book was this statement:
"The United States was established as a white society, founded on the near genocide of another race and then the enslavement of yet another."
This country's reckoning cannot move forward until we admit that what happened from the beginning was wrong. Until then, it is increasingly difficult to say with conviction that we are One Nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
Still, we remain proud of the Black Americans who continue to resist and make history. Twenty-two-year old Amanda Gorman is among those who recently ascended to her place in history by becoming the first-ever National Youth Poet Laureate. She is now part of the New Black Renaissance of young artists using their talents and abilities to empower, engage, and uplift an entire generation. In her poem The Hill We Climb, delivered at the inauguration of the 46th president of the United States, Ms. Gorman presented a roadmap for all of us to reunite the United States of America, captured in the last stanza of her poem:
"The new dawn blooms as we free it. For there is always light if only we're brave enough to see it. If only we're brave enough to be it."
Happy Black History Month 2021