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It’s the beginning of March, which means that Black History Month has officially come to an end. Every year, it seems that the lessons of Black History Month fall to the wayside after February comes to an end. Let’s not do that this year. Despite the fact that Black Americans have made huge contributions to U.S. history, Black people continue to be treated terribly in our country and around the world, and one can’t begin to understand the current living conditions of Black Americans without a proper understanding of Black history.
From the beginning, Black Americans have been exploited and mistreated. The United States was built on the stolen labor of enslaved Black people, who were tortured, violated, exploited and robbed of any compensation for their work — compensation that has still not been provided. Although slavery was officially abolished after the North won the Civil War, efforts to make amends to Black people after the war, known as Reconstruction, were sabotaged by the Ku Klux Klan and other neo-confederate organizations. A system of strict racial segregation was set up to keep Black and white people separate in education, public transportation and other amenities, even including water fountains and swimming pools. When the Jim Crow laws that allowed segregation were ended in the 1960s, Black people were pushed out of their homes by gentrification and disproportionately held in private industrial prisons where they continue to work without any payment. And throughout the years from the official end of slavery to the modern day, efforts to teach Black history accurately and thoroughly have been attacked.
In the modern day, Black Americans live under de facto segregation and a police state that routinely harms Black people at a disproportionate rate. Black Americans are discriminated against in education, healthcare, housing and the criminal justice system and have never been compensated for the generational horrors that they have experienced throughout our history. If you do not understand the true history of slavery, reconstruction and segregation, you cannot understand why these continue to occur. The disparity in net worth between the average Black family and the average white family is not an accident, nor is it an indictment of Black people, but a result of centuries of extreme, systemic discrimination. Without an understanding of this history, one might falsely attribute these disparate conditions to the characteristics of Black people, and that is precisely why it is important to understand this history.
Politicians such as Governor Ron DeSantis (R-Fl.) and Governor Glenn Youngkin (R-Va.) are trying to make this important history harder to teach in schools. Their actions, if successful, will leave younger generations ignorant and unaware of the struggles of their fellow Americans. They argue that teaching about racism isn’t appropriate for school age kids and that teaching this history promotes an “anti-American” viewpoint. This needs to be fought against. Black children learn about racism at young ages because they experience it; if Black children are subject to it regardless of age, white children are old enough to learn about it. The idea that it is anti-American is also foolish. Whether or not it makes the U.S. government look bad, the realities of slavery, reconstruction, segregation, wealth inequality and police violence are objectively true. Refusing to teach it promotes a false image of the United States that’s reminiscent of propaganda in countries we criticize as authoritarian.
While it is important to know about the awful treatment of Black people by the U.S. government, we should also educate ourselves about the accomplishments and contributions of Black Americans. Some of the Black inventors you might not know about include Garrett Morgan, who invented protective gas masks, Charles Richard Drew, who developed a method for separating red blood cells from plasma and storing them and created the first blood bank, Thomas Stewart, who invented the mop and John Purdy, who invented the folding chair. You have Black musicians to thank for many genres of music, such as Rock, R&B, Techno, Jazz and even Country Music. Did you know that the banjo was invented by a Black musician? Did you know that the first doctor to perform an open heart surgery, Daniel Hale Williams, was Black? Or that a Black woman, Alice Augusta Ball, developed a cure for leprosy?
Aside from fighting for their own civil rights, Black Americans have also historically been at the forefront of other civil rights movements. Mary Church Terrell, Ida B. Wells, Francis Watkins Harper and Sojourner Truth fought for women’s suffrage, despite the fact that the suffrage movement often left out Black women. The Stonewall Uprising, which brought the gay rights movement to the national spotlight, was also led by Black people and other queer people of color, such as Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, who were Black and Latina, respectively.
It’s also important to remember that Black people are people and all Black Lives Matter, no matter their successes and accomplishments.
The accomplishments and contributions of Black Americans are countless, and the way they have been and continue to be treated is despicable. February may be Black History Month, and it’s valuable to take time in the year to focus particularly on it, but Black history should be celebrated year-round.
To anyone who is interested, I would advise looking into your own city’s racist history. Look at the diversity of your neighborhoods and where Black residents are primarily concentrated.