By Erin Holly McDermott, Editorial Staff (‘23)
One of the largest areas of controversy today surrounds racial intolerance, social justice, and equity/equality. At this point, we all should be tired of always having the same conversations because no action is being taken. The fight for equality did not end with the Civil Rights Movement in the mid 20th century; people of color continue to face oppression and inequality today.
To construct an accurate timeline, we must look back into history as it pertains to the rights and privileges of African Americans. America has a “long history of patriotic rhetoric about freedom and citizenship,” however, this is rhetoric only white males can share. The narrative for African Americans starts under awful conditions; in 1619, the first Black indentured servants were brought to America. By 1690, every British colony in America had slaves. However, in 1808 Congress banned the further importation of slaves, which was a step in the right direction. However, this did not improve America’s attitude towards African Americans. Then, between 1831-1861, about 75,000 slaves escaped to the North using the Underground Railroad. In 1860, Abraham Lincoln was elected president, but a year later, the Civil War broke out. In 1863, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, and with the end of the Civil War in 1865, slavery was officially illegal in the United States.
This was not the end of racism, injustice, or racial inequality in America. Less than ten years after the 15th Amendment, thousands of African Americans were so afraid for their lives in the South that they migrated to the North. In 1881, the first of the Jim Crow Laws were passed, promoting segregation and “separate but equal.” African Americans had just been freed of slavery, only to have laws segregating them from whites less than 20 years later. It wasn’t until 1964 that the Civil Rights Act was passed, prohibiting discrimination of any kind within racial bounds. A year later, the Voting Rights Act was passed, blocking voting centers and politicians from using tactics to prevent African Americans from voting. This timeline establishes America’s current situation, one focused on police brutality, equity vs equality, and the recognition of white privilege.
Modern Black History has been showcased by the Black Lives Matter protests and rallies across the country. Within its core, “Black Lives Matter campaigns against violence and systemic racism towards Black people.” BLM was initially started after the death of Trayvon Martin in 2013, who was shot and killed by police while walking to a family friend’s house. Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi started the organization after George Zimmerman, the man who shot and killed Trayvon Martin, was found not guilty of 2nd-degree murder. The cause further gained momentum the next year when a New York City officer killed Eric Garner after being placed in a chokehold.
Arguably one of the most influential times for BLM was in 2016, after Deborah Danner and Alton Sterling’s deaths. The cause began to receive A-list recognition, including professional athletes LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, and Colin Kaepernick. In 2018, Black Lives Matter increased its causes to other injustices, including the MeToo Movement and March for Our Lives, proving that injustice includes bystanders as well as criminal suspects. However, 2020 marked the height of fever for the Black Lives Matter organization.
At the end of May, George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis Police. This case of police brutality was unique due to the viral video of Officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck after hearing him repeat, “I can’t breathe.” After Floyd was pronounced dead at the hospital, autopsies confirmed that his death was a homicide. Minneapolis was said to be the epicenter of the BLM movement, but social media quickly spread the cause to cities such as Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York.
According to several polls, between 15 and 26 million Americans participated in protests, rallies, or riots for the BLM cause. On May 29th, 2020, former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin was indicted and charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Three other officers that were on scene, Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng, and Tou Thao, were arrested and charged with aiding and abetting Floyd’s murder. The Black Lives Matter protests this year have highlighted the challenges Black Americans face daily and informed all Americans of these tribulations. BLM has showcased the media’s ability to spark a change and to inform the masses of racial inequality extremely quickly. African American stories are now being shared where their voices can be heard louder than ever and no longer ignored.
The question now is how will the issues highlighted by BLM and the past (and current) injustice felt by African Americans in this country, affect the future. What steps can everyday Americans take to further understand the “American Experience” felt by African Americans? Many of these questions should be posed throughout February. By teaching the true history of African Americans and highlighting writers of color for only one month of the year, students are taught that racial history is not as important as “regular history.”
However, it should be made clear that while sources call for greater equality within American education about different cultural experiences, Black History Month is in no way racist. In fact, it is the direct opposite. Black History Month offers all Americans the opportunity to reflect on the mistakes of the past while encouraging the progress of the future. While it is well known that Black History Month is a step towards a better future by embracing African American heritage, is it enough? Why isn’t an inclusive curriculum taught year-round like white history is? In fact, why isn’t every race and ethnicity showcased at the same rate?
There is a specific narrative taught within the classroom, and this narrative is chock full of wealthy, white men. Minorities have to compete for an iota of recognition and education within the classrooms of the United States. This narrative should be simply scratched and rewritten, adding the authentic stories of the minorities. Black history and stories should be embraced consistently instead of squeezed into a span of 28 days. It is quite telling that the month for celebrating the disregarded history of our fellow Americans is the shortest, bleakest month out of the year.
The New York Times Project: 1619 showcases this rewritten narrative. This project goes back, starting in 1619, the first year slaves were brought from Africa to North America, and shares the real stories of African American people as it pertains to history in general. There are influential moments in history where Black individuals are portrayed as passive reactors or victims in stories, where they should be showcased as heroes and main characters. This project has showcased the idolization of white figures in history books.
Finally, Black History Month should not be condemned in any way. Black History Month gives all Americans the chance and ability to respectfully embrace African American culture. Especially with the challenges and hardships African Americans face daily, they deserve to be embraced and appreciated. Black History and authors of color should be recognized and appreciated year-round. The messages of Black History Month should not end the second March 1st arrives; instead, a new rhetoric of acceptance and tolerance should be permanent.
Peacefieldhistory, et al. “Black History Month Isn’t Enough.” Peacefield History, 24 Feb. 2019, peacefieldhistory.com/black-history-month-isnt-enough/
African American History Timeline. http://www.nps.gov/saga/learn/education/upload/african%20american%20history%20timeline.pdf.
Holloway, Jonathan. “Isn’t 400 Years Enough?” The New York Times, The New York Times, 10 Feb. 2021, http://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/10/opinion/black-history-month.html.
Taylor, Derrick Bryson. “George Floyd Protests: A Timeline.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 30 May 2020, http://www.nytimes.com/article/george-floyd-protests-timeline.html.
Turan, Cyan. “A Timeline of the Black Lives Matter Movement.” Cosmopolitan, Cosmopolitan, 19 June 2020, http://www.cosmopolitan.com/uk/reports/a32728194/black-lives-matter-timeline-movement/.
Allen, Karma. ABC News, ABC News Network, 8 Feb. 2020, abcnews.go.com/US/importance-black-history-celebrated-february/story?id=68618746.