Every year, for 28 days (29 in leap years), we are rightly introduced to and reminded of the innumerable contributions Black people have made to this nation during Black History Month. Corporations make bold and brazen acknowledgments, educational institutions salute Black history, and churches sponsor dinners representing a culinary smorgasbord undeniably definitive of recipes that originated in the African diaspora.
All of that is good. Black people have a complex and vibrant history distinct from other ethnic groups due to the religious, economic, social, psychological and educational experiences that have been visited and inflicted upon us.
By exploring and acknowledging Black History Month, the nation is paying homage to a group of men and women who are strong, resilient, innovative, forgiving and have contributed immensely to the vitality and success of the United States – a nation where some people never intended for us to obtain full citizenship or be fully included within the panorama of American culture.
Black History Month undercuts cultural stereotypes by highlighting vital facts, notable statistics and distinguished accomplishments. Although there has been notable improvement in media portrayals of Black people over the past few years, particularly regarding commercials, the triumphs far too often are obscured and dismissed from public discussion.
Truth be told, racism has always been a part of this nation. It is deeply ingrained in the fabric of our culture and is as American as apple pie. What we have witnessed over the past several years is blatant, undisguised bigotry – the type that many white people had to keep disguised and leashed since the 1950s – now being allowed to unapologetically permeate various sectors of our society, in many cases without consequences.
Anyone who has a pulse and is socially and culturally aware is astute to the challenges facing Black Americans. We have brazen right-wing politicians who routinely stoke the flames of racial and cultural animosity and division. The time is ripe for a reinforcement of Black excellence to combat such racial resistance.
Since the time of this nation’s inception, Black Americans have had to wage a historically long battle, fighting to obtain rights that were supposed to be guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution – rights most other groups have taken for granted. The mountains and minefields that our ancestors had to face head-on and triumph over are a testament to their strength and spirit.
We are enduring similar battles in the 21st century. Being Black in America often means waging an ongoing battle. It means dealing with a history and people who have been defined by blood, sweat, tears, pain, occasional dashed dreams, setbacks and periodic victories.
Black history is not some event that should be confined to one month of the year. The history of Black people, like other ethnic groups, is one that deserves full and undivided attention.
Elwood Watson column is distributed by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate. Watson is a professor of history, Black studies, and gender and sexuality studies.