What Black History Means

The importance of celebrating Black History Month and its intersectionality.

History is the story of ordinary, everyday people. It is about the details of what happened, what could have happened and what will inevitably happen again. With that in mind, it becomes obvious that all of our histories are interconnected and that our collective memories shape our future.

That is why I believe, or rather have always inherently understood, that black history is essential to everyone else as well.

So this Black History Month, realize that our history is your history too. Black history is more than just names and dates of famous accomplishments. It expands beyond listing George Washington Carver’s uses for peanuts or memorizing a fun fact about Barack Obama for class.

August Wilson, famous black playwright, once said he used to sit in restaurants and let the dialogue of black citizens in his community inspire his plays. He wrote about the everyday issues black people faced and the everyday heroism with which they confronted them. The history of black people in America is a history of people recovering day after day, against all odds. It is that daily struggle that highlights black history best.  

Black history is about how the black community has surpassed obstacles, but also about how those obstacles affect us all still. It is a collection of human stories that have had to flourish in harsh, unforgiving conditions. It is my Nigerian mother, who is afraid of nothing, but is still shamed over her accent. It is the documentary I watched in U.S. History, which showed a black woman with three kids pause, straighten her back and then risk everything to register to vote.

That’s the spirit of resilience that every American can celebrate this month.

Black History Month is for everybody, because the story of black people in America is one of triumph over adversity. What is more human than that? There is a reason that the civil rights movement inspired several others after it. It is because we are deeply affected by each other — we are all connected, we have obligations to each other and we live our loved ones’ pains and joys. We can all find something to celebrate in black history, one of the world’s best stories of finding hope in dark times.

Appreciate black history. Remember it with us. Because aside from what’s stated above, it is the present we live in. Black history can help you understand how America could stand by and let children be separated from their parents. Or why California had “youth offenders” fighting fires for $1 a day.

If history is a roadmap of how we got to where we are, it is also a roadmap of how to move past the hard places we find ourselves in too. This February, take some time to appreciate black history and how valuable it has been in the past, present and will be in the future — for all communities.

Email Sarah John at [email protected] 

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