For the last 37 years, our country has officially celebrated Black History Month, after Congress passed Public Law 99-244 in February 1986. This celebration of the history of Black culture and the achievements and contributions of Black Americans actually started when Dr. Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of African American Life & History created “Negro History Week” in 1926. Woodson envisioned a weeklong celebration to encourage the coordinated teaching of Black history in public schools. His vision grew immensely, and led to a ripple effect that expanded the teaching of Black History across America.
Fast forward to February of 2023, and we are regrettably starting to observe a growing trend to suppress teachings on Black History, racism in America and the widespread effects of discrimination that still impact the Black experience and livelihood today. It almost feels like the history of Black people in America is becoming invisible.
I have always been a fan of superhero movies and fascinated with the concept of invisibility. Can you imagine? Being able to enter a room without anyone seeing you? What would you see people do? What would you hear people say? What would you do, when no one can see you doing it? I have a fun sense of humor, so I imagine going into my favorite restaurant and removing all the forks from the dining room, and placing them near the pastry chef station, with a note that says “dinner should always end with free dessert”. LOL!
But seriously, the suppression of teachings about racism and discrimination in America is placing an invisibility cloak on what could be the most transformative moment in the history of America. Black History is American History; it is not possible to separate the two. We stand to gain nothing by denying ourselves and our children access to the truth about the ugly history of slavery, racism and discrimination in the United States. But what we can gain is a real opportunity to finally address the lingering effects of slavery, Jim Crow Laws, redlining, disparities in healthcare, employment discrimination, lack of access to capital, education and so many others areas of our society that were denied to people of color in our country…..and in many cases are still severely limited.
How different would American history be if those who want to make invisible the unpopular truths and uncomfortable chapters of our nation’s story, were brave and bold enough to embrace the reality of the lingering effects of racism, discrimination and slavery? What could we accomplish if we finally make an effort to acknowledge the negative effects of these disparities, and embrace solutions that will enable us to seek justice, show mercy and humbly serve people impacted by our nation’s history of racism? Ask yourself, are we raising a generation that will be free and brave if they are sheltered from the truth? Will they wake up 50 years from now still trying to find solutions to racism, discrimination and disparities, like many Baby Boomers are waking up today, unnerved that they are still fighting this fight?
Please take a moment to make visible the truth about our nation’s history. Have real conversations with your family, friends and faith circles about how people of color would have a very different life if racism, discrimination and disparities were made invisible, not the history of how they came to be and continue to negate our existence. And have these conversations all year, not just in February.
I want to acknowledge how different the history of industrialism and wealth in America would be if people of color were not denied the ability to own life insurance and file patents in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, when many of our nation’s “Billionaire Families” established themselves. I acknowledge how different real estate, land ownership and the average net worth of Black Families would be, if the Fair Housing Act were passed in 1868 – five years after the Emancipation Proclamation, instead of 1968. I acknowledge how different civic participation and the ability to impact the policies we live within would be, if the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1865 – three years after the Emancipation Proclamation, instead of 1965. These historic pieces of legislation and scholarly analysis of how they have shaped life in America for people of color are not controversial or false; this is the truth about our nation.
Invisibility has an engaging and dynamic place in pop culture. Spend a Saturday night watching superhero movies from the 90’s and beyond, and you will see that we are fascinated by its potential. But the history of racism, discrimination and oppression of people of color in America should not be cloaked in the unseen. Invisibility is not our superpower.
– Marcella Brown, LMM VP of Development & Communications