After Black History Month

Each February we see 28 (or 29) daily newspaper features or television vignettes highlighting cultural, scientific, political, and social contributions of Black Americans. Customarily, an African American individual is cited for an extraordinary contribution that advanced America. Come March 1st, the highlight reel of African American achievements ends.

Over the years, I have been asked, “Why do we need a Black History Month? Isn’t Black History just a part of American History? We shouldn’t separate histories.” Let me reframe the question:

After 46 years of Black History Month, why is it still necessary? The blunt truth is that Black History is not yet fully infused into the tale of America. We’ve progressed, but we have not yet succeeded. Also, resistance to the harsher, less flattering realities of American history must be addressed. Meanwhile, we need Black History Month to more accurately document our nation’s heritage.

Jim Crow, segregation, and discrimination are long since gone. Doesn’t Black History Month exacerbate an already-difficult situation? New Jersey’s “de facto” segregation is currently under judicial review. If you think segregation no longer exists, visit any school cafeteria and take note of the seating arrangements. More often than not, you will see the Black kids sitting with other Black kids, Latino kids sitting with other Latino kids and white kids sitting with other white kids. Why? More appropriately ask, why not? It may be about acceptance, safety, and security?

Why is the news cycle so intense when an African American man dies in police custody? Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Tyre Nichols, and too many others, should be among us today, but they are not. For each, the news cycle runs its course and, tragically, will be replaced by yet another name.          

Gary Keeler’s The One Thing holds the operating premise – What is the one thing we can do that will make everything else either easier, or unnecessary? What one thing can each of us do to ensure Tyre Nichols is the last headline of this nature? We recognize there are other crises of cruelty taking place every day as the LGBTQ+ community is bullied, anti-Semitism increases, Hispanic hatred is demonstrated, and Muslims are denigrated.

We can’t fix everything, but we can fix something. How can you increase your awareness of the hateful atrocities that occur every day? Suggestion: Read Widely. View different accounts of the same story.  Do the pieces fit?  Listen before framing your opinions. Diversify your news sources. Challenge yourself to look at the situation through another’s eyes. Let’s discuss these situations openly and uncomfortably. “Seek first to understand, then seek to be understood.” (Stephen Covey 7 Habits of Highly Effective People)

Perhaps building empathy for the victims of hate, abuse, discrimination, and segregation will be the “one thing” that will make everything easier or unnecessary.