As February comes to an end, it’s important to look back on the month and reflect upon what we learned, or unlearned, about Black history, and the biases at play. So let’s start with the origins of Black History Month.
In 1926, Carter G. Woodson and the Association for African-American Life and History came up with History Week to highlight and acknowledge the accomplishments of African-Americans, and to combat the stereotype that black people are lazy, and don’t contribute anything to society. The movement spread quickly, and a new understanding of Black literature and culture was growing amongst the middle class. However, by the mid-1960’s, only two Black people were mentioned in U.S history books since the Civil War. During that same decade, colleges and universities turned History Week into a month to address the lack of Blackness in U.S history.
This was then. It is now 2018, and these problems haven’t quite gone away. Black people are still viewed as lazy and unmotivated, there is still very little representation for them, Black men are disproportionately affected by police brutality, Black women are still making a fraction to the dollar of white women, systemic racial inequities remain… Clearly, there is still so much work to be done, and lately it feels as if we take two steps backwards for every step forward.
It is almost impossible to go a year without hearing “Why do we need Black History Month?” or “Why isn’t there a White History Month?” That speaks volumes in and of itself. America was built on the backs of Black people, Native Americans and immigrants. And so much of their contribution is erased because our history is written for white people, by white people.
It would be nice if people of color didn’t have to prove their worth with a laundry list of accomplishments. However, the harsh reality is that to be seen as full, respectable human beings, Black people have to work twice as harder, and constantly prove they aren’t their stereotypes. And even after all this, one single mistake and they are immediately reduced back down to their stereotypes of being ‘lazy’ or ‘loud’ or ‘thugs.’
Anti-Blackness is very prevalent in America, however, it is also very prevalent amongst Muslims and the Asian community. I say this as a South-Asian, Muslim immigrant. We need to work on our biases, and we need to fight for equality, and not only when it affects us. Just because we are marginalized doesn’t mean that we are incapable of being prejudiced. Black Muslims are discriminated against on a regular basis, can you imagine what it’s like to have dual parts of your identity politicized and demonized? As Muslims, it is our duty to be inclusive and to stand up for the oppressed — not to alienate and discriminate.
It’s time we all check our privileges and eradicate our biases. Progress is uncomfortable, but it needs to happen and it needs to start with ourselves. We don’t exist in a vacuum: we learn and adopt a lot of beliefs (some we may not even be aware of). Some of these beliefs are most likely rooted in prejudice, and we need to unlearn them.
So you wanna see progress? Start with yourself, start with your friends, start with your parents. Call it out.