This is the fourth year that Social Justice For All (SJFA) has celebrated Black History Month. As we start the month I like to reflect on the progress made around issues of equity and equality and also reflect on how much work still has yet to be done.
Every year, SJFA looks to celebrate the substantial accomplishments of African Americans and the cultural and political history of the African-American experience. Here at SJFA we’ll take some time to celebrate 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, our nation maintains huge gaps; distressingly, many of these firsts have happened in just the past decade.
I am absolutely elated that President Obama has nominated more African-American judges and more LGBT judges than any previous president. I am particularly delighted that two weeks ago he nominated Staci Michelle Yandle, an African-American lesbian for federal judge for the 7th circuit. Let us hope we will soon see an African American gay man as judge soon.
Tragically, we are still witnessing an amazing amount of trespass against the African American community. The behavior of Sarah Palin was not only monstrous but helped to give voice to the ugly racism that continues to resurface. Sadly, I have had to stop looking at Facebook for all the horrific racist memes being posted — memes that strip everyone of their dignity and humanity. Sadly, we also witnessed the Supreme Court intentionally undo the equitable work of the Voter’s Rights Act this past June.
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.
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 requires that 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 and let each of us step back and reflect where we might be implicated in colluding with the dominant discourse.