This is a significant year for Black History Month. 2013 is the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington and the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. Looking at the historical context of those two major events and looking at our nation today, it is easy to see that we have made substantial progress as a nation. Sadly, we still have far to go.
This month is set aside to celebrate the substantial accomplishments of African Americans and to look at the cultural and political history of the African-American experience. Here at TSM we’ll take some time to celebrate more individuals who have made great contributions to social justice as pioneers, activists, and role models. Although it is wonderful to have many people to celebrate, the list of “African-American Firsts” still has many gaps; distressingly, many of these firsts have happened in just the past decade — many are still first-and-only accomplishments.
Equality is still just a dream when nearly 13% of the people in our country identify as African American and far fewer than this are represented in most walks of life. Sadly, the places where African Americans are over-represented include poverty, dropouts, and incarceration, further evidence that institutionalized oppression still plays a major role in how things work in America. In states like Alabama, blacks that are or were incarcerated lose their right to vote for the rest of their lives–so much for the 14th Amendment.
Until leadership — political and economic (what I call the dominant discourse) — in this country is truly representational, it will be hard to overcome these facts. Progress is slow. Even with the most diverse Congress ever, fewer than 10% of the House is African American. In the Senate, this month will see the first time ever that two African Americans serve that body, and that 2% representation was entirely appointed, not elected.
I would love to see a point in history when we don’t need Black History, Women’s History, or LGBT History Months. I don’t see that happening until we have a level playing field, which would require eradicating racism, misogyny, and homophobia. This also means we see accurate representation in history books of Blacks, Women, and LGBT folk.
For now, there is still much to celebrate. Let’s kick off Black History Month in this historic year with an eye to so many wonderful accomplishments. Let inspiration drive hope to fuel more success.