We celebrate Black History Month to include the often forgotten history of those who came to America in chains to provide free labor to the New World.
People of African descent in America were the only group the law prohibited from education for over 300 years due to placing value only on their labor and not their intellect. However, even with the threat of death and jail, many learned to read and gained survival skills in their new environment.
We celebrate black history to fight against the residue of slavery and oppression that can stymie self-worth and value of our own skin.
The Emancipation Proclamation provided a document that declared slaves free, and yet the psychological chains and emotional damage carried through generations due to Jim Crow laws that found a new way to shackle the American man with the darkest hue.
As I get older, the pain of racism gets harder to ignore and shake. As I research in Galveston County the lack of minority homeownership’s and local banks that refuse to use Community Reinvestment Act monies to improve communities or lend to persons in that community, the effects of racism get harder to shake.
Or when I see the lack of counseling or resources for over 3,500 persons, mainly African-American families displaced by gentrification between 2004-2012, and yet very few stand to give this group an equitable voice.
Or when the research shows that very few city governments have African-American prime contracts even when federal funds are tied to those business ventures or disaster relief.
Or when I look at the data of disproportionate numbers of black and brown children in the county juvenile justice centers, over policing of African-American males and placement in discipline-based alternative schools. The chains are still rattling.
We celebrate black history because it’s American history. And though not included enough in our history books — it still must be taught. We’re more than slaves, enslaved workers or a glamorized stereotype in a “gangsta” rap video.
However, if we don’t intentionally strive to learn the value of all Americans, we will live in a virtual reality of negative stereotypes that will push us into the corners of isolation leaving us open to the threat of foreign nations and domestic terrorists who play on our fears and laugh at our tears.
We celebrate because of the 400 years where Africans were stripped of their humanity and bred like dogs so America could become a wealthy nation due to our free labor source in which we didn’t personally profit. The wails of ancient slave mothers passed on merge with the howls of the mothers today who have lost sons and daughters to a quick police trigger, absent mental health facilities and an American prison system who some argue is the new slave state. The chains are still rattling.
And yet and still, black history must be celebrated to provide hope to a new generation who must learn how to shake off racism and gain new survival tactics, and manage somehow to keep going forward. The chains are still rattling. We have nothing to lose but our chains.