Sean Thomas-Breitfeld in The Nation:
Last week marked the beginning of Black History Month. This year, we have twenty-nine days during which we will celebrate the many contributions of African-Americans to our nation’s history. This is a month when we make heroes of people who overcame real, systemic and often legal oppression. We lift up, in President Obama’s official proclamation, “a story of resilience and perseverance” to inspire and educate the public about a part of this nation’s history that wasn’t told a generation ago.
But in all of the celebration of a selective highlight reel of history, too often we overlook the reality of our present and how far we have yet to go to realize a better future where we all have enough to thrive—not just survive.
In his last book, Where Do We Go From Here, Martin Luther King Jr. wrote, “A society that has done something special against the Negro for hundreds of years must now do something special for him.” I don’t think Black History Month is what he had in mind.
He was probably taking a cold, hard look at our nation’s history and thinking of the terrible oppression and injustice that black people endured—first under slavery, and then under legally sanctioned segregation in the South and informal segregation everywhere else. The sad fact is that the vast majority of our nation’s history (from the Declaration of Independence right up until the legislative victories of the civil rights movement) constitutes that “something special against the Negro” that King mentioned. That long history of discrimination has a direct impact on the black community today.