Reflections on Black History Month 2022

Photo by Logan Weaver from Unsplash.com.

Author

As February ends, I find myself reflecting back on its designation as Black History Month and the many opportunities it provides us each year, across a wide variety of media, to dive into that history.

While I appreciate the richness of the experiences offered, I sometimes feel an internal tension over how much time to spend learning a history that I can tell myself is not my history. That is the challenge for me as a white man – accepting and embracing the fact that it is my duty as a citizen to learn about both the Black people who have made history despite facing overwhelming racism and about the many ways that past practices of white people have resulted in today’s structural racism and our enduring economic and social disparities. Black history is indeed my history.

That fact was reinforced for me a couple of weeks ago in a conversation with an African-American friend and activist about why she continued to dedicate her life to work for racial equity and justice. “I want my grandbabies to grow up in a more just world. Don’t you?” She helped me see that as a white man it was easy for me to opt out of being concerned about racial justice. After all, my day-to-day life didn’t include confronting disrespect or disdain or denial of services because of my skin tone.

Our guest contributor last week Tamara Copeland, an African-American woman raised in Virginia, shared in her post how she thought for a long time that the system was fair and that education and hard work were the path to prosperity and happiness for everyone, including Black people.

She reflected on how the murder of Trayvon Martin in 2012 changed her world view. Trayvon, a Black teenager visiting his dad in Florida, was shot without cause by a member of a neighborhood watch program. Put on trial the security guard was found not guilty of second-degree murder.

In her disbelief and rage over the lack of consequences for this murder, Tamara reflects: “That’s when I started reading everything I could about Black history, listening to podcasts, watching documentaries, trying to understand how this murderer could have been freed. Why do African Americans predominate in all statistics reflecting a negative quality of life? Why are we disproportionately represented in jails and prisons? Why aren’t we succeeding in our country’s schools? Why is there a huge gap in wealth between Blacks and whites? Why? Why? Why?”

I was moved by Tamara’s passion and commitment to learning. It caused me to think about my more casual approach to filling in the huge gaps in my understanding of Black history, I believe those gaps, which I probably share with many Americans, limit our motivation and our understanding of the changes that are still needed today in the pursuit of racial justice.

Black History Month this year brought a number of lessons for me. I learned more about the Tulsa Massacre through a PBS special about how a thriving Black community was destroyed by fearful white people in 1921, just over 100 years ago. And what the Black churches and others are doing in Tulsa today to continue to work for racial equity. I read in a Washington Post series on Black History about Carter G. Woodson and his lifetime commitment to educating all about the facts of Negro life in America. His 1933 book, The Mis-Education of the Negro, offered a curriculum for educators on Black history. His body of work resulted in the beginning of what we now call Black History, then called Negro History Week.

Two other stories in the Washington Post series got my attention. One was about a bill introduced in the Mississippi state legislature in 1922 asking the federal government to negotiate with European countries who had colonies in Africa for an African region where the Black residents of Mississippi (and presumably other states) could be shipped, creating “a final home for the American negro.”  

More upbeat was an article on how Alex Haley began writing for Reader’s Digest as a young Black man and spent 30 years there resulting in his classic works on Malcolm X and historical drama Roots.

Here in my home community of Greenbelt, a local Black History Month Committee developed a series of events around the theme of “Body, Mind, and Money: Black Health, Wellness and Finance. Topics included: “Health Equity in Maryland,” “The Agriculture of Enslaved People: What They Grew and Raised to Eat,” a Negro League Baseball Exhibit, “Maintaining a Business in Greenbelt,” and “Mind and Body Self-care.”  

February is a rich time to learn about Black History. Openness to learning is the pathway to more understanding and compassion. And ultimately to changed attitudes and behaviors. I am reminded of the simple truth that we need each other to survive and to live in community. I hope your Black History Month experience advanced understanding, compassion and actions to end structural racism and racial inequity.

Author

  • Tom Adams writes and speaks on topics vital to the intersection of our personal lives with our community and global lives. He has for decades been engaged in and written about nonprofit leadership and transitions, spirituality and spiritual growth, how we each contribute to a more just and equitable world and recovery from addictions and the Twelve Step recovery movement.

4 Comments

  1. Joseph Muth

    During Black History month there was also much discussion about Critical Race Theory (CRT) throughout the country. There have been some school boards and some legislatures that have banned, or attempted to ban, the teaching of CRT in their schools. I think the religious community has a great opportunity here. Teaching CRT cannot be banned in Churches or Synagogues or Mosques or other religious institutions. This teaching can continue and provide opportunities for the local communities to gather for understanding and discussion. These institutions are not subject to school board or legislative bans. This is the time for the religious institutions to step up and make a difference.

    • Tom Adams

      Thanks Joe for the reminder that churches have played a big role in advancing social justice in the past and there is a huge opportunity today. Be well. Tom

  2. Robert M McDonald

    Tom, This comment needn’t be long because your reflection on Black History Month already went “to the heart of the matter”. For me, you hit the nail on the head in one sentence: “Black history is indeed my history.” In this human enterprise it’s not THEIR history; it’s OUR history.
    And as Joe Muth was clearly hinting, if religious institutions don’t get positively involved there is a vastly reduced hope that even Justice will be advanced and achieved—much less Charity.
    I am reminded of Toni Morrison’s book “The Origin of Others”. Making someone “Other” is an age-old way to blame or create distance. It’s not THEM; it’s US.

    • Tom Adams

      Thanks Bob, yes it is a lot easier to find ways to be different and try to make others less than or different out of fear. We are called to let go of fear and love as best we can. Thanks for the reminder. Tom