February is Black History Month. This means that out of the 366 days of this year, 29 of them will be dedicated to celebrating black excellence. By March, however, the narrative of black Americans will reset to criminalization, systemic racism and second-class citizenry. In the remaining 337 days, black Americans will return to crying out “I can’t breathe” while suffocating under the grip of the U.S. criminal justice system — and at the same time shouting, “hands up, don’t shoot” and“pants up, don’t loot.” Yet despite the persistence of civil rights violations throughout history, many challenge the need and even the legitimacy of Black History Month out of a belief that the gesture is self-serving and obsolete; however, the assumption that BHM was designed for an earlier era and is now of no use is not only reductive but also extremely misguided. Regardless of what year it is, attributing the month of February to the history and veneration of black Americans despite racial inequality explains a critically important point — why “Black Lives Matter.”
Clueless actress and former Fox News contributor Stacey Dash, who is Bajan, black and Mexican, called for the elimination of BHM as well as Black Entertainment Television in a series of dangerous, overtly simplistic statements made to Fox and Friends on Jan. 20. She said: “Either we want to have segregation or integration. And if we don’t want segregation, then we need to get rid of channels like BET and the BET awards and the Image Awards, where you’re only awarded if you’re black. If it were the other way around, we would be up in arms. It’s a double standard.”
She continued to say that BET promoted segregation and lied to “American black people by telling them that the rest of America is racist” in a follow-up essay. To Dash, it is important to note that racial equality condemns both segregation and integration, as they are the foundations of institutionalized racism. Discrimination from government organizations, banks, courts of law and unequal access to quality education implicitly put black Americans at a disadvantage, rendering their ability to “integrate” nearly impossible. It is important to note that Dash’s use of the word “integrate” is a double-edged sword in that black Americans should be able to participate as themselves — as black Americans — in society, not abandon their racial identity to integrate into society.
In honor of BHM — and seeing that Black History is not taught from a black perspective but a predominantly white one — it is more than appropriate to use the history itself to explain how the past defines the racial injustices of today. There are two fundamental works conveniently left out of all levels of education: Slavery by Another Name and The New Jim Crow — the first, a documentation of the advent of industrial slavery in post-Civil War America and its criminalization of black people into second-class citizenry. At this time, the convict lease system relegated black Americans into forced laborers, imprisoned by the U.S. justice system as encouraged by states, local government, white farmers and corporations until World War II. The latter work traces the narrative of segregation and so-called integration well after the Civil Rights Movement, as seen with the mass incarceration of black Americans as a result of the disproportionate and skewed policing of the war on drugs. Since the 1980s, black Americans have been segregated through legalized discrimination and unfair prison sentences, which resulted in the inability to integrate in society after incarceration. The murders of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland and countless others as a result of unwarranted racial profiling and subsequent police brutality illustrate how black Americans are segregated from equal protection under law and are unable to integrate into society due to the color of their skin, which either criminalizes or commodifies them.
In light of the harsh realities of what it means to be black in America, U.S. history illustrates the need for the veneration, understanding and awareness of the other side of Black History. The month of February is important because it is a gesture of recognition and visibility to a group of Americans who are more often than not silenced, oppressed and altogether ignored. Above all else, it is ignorant to assume that racism only has a place in history as it is very much a part of today and the future. In spite of generations of structural violence and subsequent discrimination, black Americans prove that they are and always will be resilient — and the observation of BHM translates into solidarity against racism, acknowledging that “Black Lives Matter.”
Lida Dianti is a junior majoring in international relations. Her column, “That’s So Racist!,” runs Wednesdays.