News Flash

Black History Month

Posted on: February 10, 2021

Koket Dhuguma

What does Black History Month mean to you?

Black History Month is essentially the only time during the year people feel almost obligated to listen to Black voices and make an effort to make space for Blackness. I love that there is that spotlight on Black history as our history doesn’t get to shine any other time of the year--but it concerns me how surface-level and superficial it has become. I have come to have an extensive love/hate relationship with the month. It originated as “Negro History Week” created by Carter G. Woodson in order to create a time and space to educate on Black American history and highlight and appreciate the accomplishments and contributions of Black Americans to American history, but it has ultimately become overtaken by performative activism that does nothing for Black folks and is limited to teaching about a very select few Black figures that white Americans are comfortable acknowledging. All throughout elementary, middle, and high school, we learned about the same four or five figures repeatedly; Martin Luther King Jr, Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, Ruby Bridges, Frederick Douglas, etc.-- who, don’t get me wrong, did a lot for the advancement of Black history, but the limitations of Black figures taught is very revealing. Figures like Denmark Vessey, Nat Turner, the Black Panthers, SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) aren’t ever taught, and neither are significant events in Black history such as the burning of Black Wall Street (aka the Tulsa race massacre), Ax Handle Saturday (aka Jacksonville Riot), or any of the many slave revolts because it makes white Americans uncomfortable to confront the reality of the harsh relationship between America and Black folks since the beginning. So, while Black History Month was initially well intentioned, it does not function as it was meant to. I love that it’s there as an opportunity to shine a light on Black history but I wish it would stay true to its original purpose rather than being corrupted to the surface level alternative that it is now.

How do you envision a just and equitable future?

I envision a world free of the biases and discrimination that are etched into every American system-- especially when it comes to things like healthcare and education as well as police interactions and prisons systems. I plan on going into the medical field which is admittedly one of the most biased and flawed fields when it comes to how they administer their care. Especially in the emergency rooms and in emergency care in general, there is a lack of regard for many and most minority groups based solely on biases with no scientific backing. The United States was founded on the principles of slavery and genocide and all American systems reflect that fact. I envision a complete dismantling and rebuilding of all these systems with systems that are knowledgeable and non-discriminating. White supremacy and racial discrimination against people of color are as American as McDonald’s is. The first step to achieving equity is being willing to confront the reality of the state of our country. Claiming “this isn’t the America I know” every time something horrific happens only furthers the idea that these events are one-offs when in reality this is the true state of America-- it’s how it has ALWAYS been. Once we are able to acknowledge the state of the country and own up to its atrocities, then we can move towards dismantling those systems and creating a more equitable space for us all.

How did you celebrate your joy this past year?

It’s been a hard year to find joy as a Black woman in America. We lost so much and the truth came out about so many people. More than anything, I felt anger and exhaustion. In the few moments that I did feel joyous, I found it in the little successes we achieved. We definitely started a larger conversation about police brutality and the mistreatment of Black folks in the country. There were (subtle) moves towards police reform and more attention being given to trying to hold officers responsible. There has also been a drastic movement to remove confederate symbols and statues from public spaces which is a necessary step in taking responsibility for America’s history in hopes of moving forward. The other place I found my joy was in the Black musicians, artists and creators I found this past year. Simply immersing myself in Black culture was therapeutic and brought an indescribable joy into my life. The community building and coming together of so many different cultures and people in support of one another and to fight for a worthy cause was beautiful and truly life changing. I found joy in the little things this year.

Does Black History Month mean anything different to you after 2020's civil rights uprising?

Yes, I think the subsequent insignificance of it was revealed. I’ve had innumerable amounts of people tell me the existence of a Black history month is proof that we are equal when in reality it is proof that we are not. We don’t learn about the significance of Black Americans in our required core American History classes. The first time I learned about Black historical figures in a classroom setting was in an African American History class I took as a junior. Seeing the overlapping of events and which ones were left out of American history were eye opening. Ultimately, Black History Month does not anymore solve any problem that we have or even aim to. After seeing what we have seen over the past year, it’s clear that there needs to be a shift in focus of the meaning and significance of the month. Although those of us experiencing racism first hand knew it the entirety of our lives, this year was an eye-opener for some folks concerning the divide that is present in the country over civil rights as well as the explicit disregard for Black people (and people of color in general) in every major American system. Moving forward, there needs to be more care and authenticity put into the lessons and conversations surrounding Black history and Blackness in general.

How do you celebrate Black history, culture, and art year-round?

My friends and I are super big on buying from Black-owned businesses and immersing ourselves in Blackness at every given chance. We found Black owned hair salons and nail places in Minneapolis which were incredibly exciting. We also started following more Black creators and educators on social media platforms for both general entertainment as well as on political and social justice topics. Supporting Black people in every sense of the word is the goal.

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