Wednesday, May 23, 2018

You don’t need to be black to celebrate Black History Month



I have to guiltily make a confession regarding my ignorance on the subject of Black History Month. Although I have not grown up in America, I cannot (especially as a senior) use my foreignness as an excuse for this.

For the past three years here at Trinity, I have been invited to or heard of events on campus in celebration of this month, but neither did I ever attend any of these, nor did I even make the effort to look up the significance of this celebration. My logic for this seemed fairly straight forward- ‘I am not black, so what could I possibly have to celebrate on this month?’ This stemmed from my baseless assumption that the occasion was simply to do with the ‘abolishment of slavery, the extension of civil rights, and other legal accomplishments’ that I couldn’t culturally connect to. Ultimately, just the way I tend to be skeptical of the ‘Hallmark holidays,’ I would also end up questioning the purpose of delegating a month towards celebrating a specific history.

Following an insightful conversation with one of my roommates just this past weekend, as we approach the end of Black History Month- I have come to finally realize that the existence of this month is especially crucial for people like me. Black History Month did emerge as a way to address and clarify the often misunderstood and tangled up history of the African diaspora, about 50 years after slavery was abolished in America. That said, the month in contemporary times is also meant to celebrate the numerous contributions that African-Americans have made to and continue to make to society at large. These are contributions that have positively impacted us all, but undoubtedly also include ones that we overlook in our daily lives. In this regard, this month can, and should be celebrated by people from all backgrounds.

In thinking about African-American contributions to society, the first two fields that come to mind include sports, and music. While African Americans have achieved numerous athletic milestones within or while representing America, the community has also been instrumental in the development of music genres ranging from the blues to jazz to reggae, and to hip-hop. Celebrities such as Beyoncé, Whitney Houston, Oprah Winfrey, Michael Jackson, Will Smith, Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, and Muhammad Ali, amongst many others have all made a lasting impression in the nations as well as in the world.

Black innovators and inventors have also made significant contributions over the years. To list a few- Dr. Daniel Hale Williams was the first physician to successfully perform an open-heart surgery, Dr. Earl Shaw was the co-inventor of a laser device for radiation therapy for cancer patients, Garrett Morgan invented the the first traffic signal, Sarah Broome invented the ironing board, J.A. Burr invented the lawn mower, and the list goes on.

While it does seem like a stretch to connect race to achievements that do not explicitly have much to do with ethnic backgrounds- I think it is essential to acknowledge and celebrate these in the context of Black History Month.

Given the unfortunate stigmas and stereotypes that media has created, specifically linking African Americans to violent behavior, this month provides the opportunity for everyone to realize and celebrate the positive and truthfully inspiring side to the African diaspora. Instead of feeding into existing racial disparities by questioning the purpose of this month, why not simply partake in it? I think that any such occassion should be seen as an opportunity for people from diverse backgrounds to come together, instead of furthering apart.

Ultimately, Black History Month is not an exclusive celebration, and shouldn’t be regarded as such.


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