Black History Month is an annual celebration of the the impact black individuals have had on the world by focusing on their significant contributions to America and the international community that takes place during the month of February.
Black History month began as Negro History Week, instituted in 1926 by Carter Woodson and other black activists. One by one, throughout the 20th century, different cities adopted the week and by 1976, President Ford formally recognized Black History Month, saying “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
Honoring the tremendous contributions that the black community has made to our society is especially important in an environment such as ours. With such a small minority of African Americans, many forget just how instrumental the black community has been on our society.
Kyle Momanyi ’20, a black Providence Academy student, highlighted some of the reasons a month recognizing black excellence is necessary. “Lots of kids here don’t even understand the struggle of blacks to move past centuries of oppression and achieve greatness.” He went on to say “Most people at this school say racist or offensive things on a daily basis; it’s obvious that a lot of the time they don’t actually mean offense”.
It’s not just Kyle who recognizes this, Dr. Derald Wing Sue Ph.D. writes on ” microaggressions” for Psychology Today. He says, “Racial, gender, and sexual orientation microaggressions are active manifestations and/or a reflection of our worldviews of inclusion/exclusion, superiority/inferiority.” He goes on to describe the circumstances that usually surround these microaggressions. “Much of this is outside the level of conscious awareness, thus we engage in actions that unintentionally oppress and discriminate against others.” Calling these socialized biases out and providing information to counteract them is extremely important step towards fixing the racial tension throughout the world.
America was built on the backs of the slaves – this is undeniable fact. Slavery was the engine of the early American economic machine, its what allowed America to surpass England as an economic superpower by 1880. Many think the impact that slaves had on the economy came solely from their labor, but as the industrial revolution took hold, slave owners began to use their slaves as high value collateral on loans. Major modern institutions like J.P. Morgan Chase and Wells Fargo both benefited handsomely from these loans.
During the Great Depression, FDR’s WPA project was the only way for Black Americans to work in an unsegregated environment. In the WPA, blacks and whites worked together to rebuild the crumbling American economy.
Fast forward to now, race relations in America are at a historic low. While the laws surrounding the treatment of blacks have changed in favor of equality, many feel that the treatment of blacks has not improved or has improved negligibly. When discussing the achievements of Black Americans, it is necessary to recognize the place of disadvantage that many blacks come from and are forced to overcome.
For thousands of years before colonization and slavery, Africans developed technology thousands of years before the rest of the world. Anthropologists theorize that the Egyptians were the first civilization to enter the Iron Age. Scientists also discovered a 20,000 year old instrument used for multiplication in modern day Congo. As the colonization and enslavement of Africans began in the 1500’s, they took their knowledge with them to the New World.
West African slaves are credited with developing rice farming methods for North American land, building dugout canoes found in the Chesapeake, and many Caribbean slaves were prized for their metal making skills. Until the 1800’s the achievements of American Blacks are hard to track due to the fact that educating slaves was illegal in the south, where most slaves lived.
In 1821, a freed man named Thomas Jennings became the first black man to receive a patent. His patent was for the modern dry cleaning process; he was a well respected tailor and his patent allowed him to open up shop in New York. Later in life, Jennings became a major financial supporter of the abolitionist movement.
Next, George Washington Carver, is possibly one of the most well known black men of the 19th century. He is commonly credited with inventing peanut butter. While this is not true, he did in fact invent 44 ways to use peanuts in food. Putting peanuts aside, his life’s main work is even more impressive. He was the first to develop an effective method to keep soil healthy even after planting cotton repeatedly. Along with this, he also encouraged poor black farmers to plant other foods besides cotton to move away from the stigma surrounding cotton, among other reasons.
In a world designed to keep people of color down, the impact that blacks have had on it is unbelievable. In a school, with a clear black minority, remembering the many contributions of these historical figures is especially important. As Dr. Derald Wing Sue Ph.D. wrote for Psychology Today, “Racial microaggressions are the brief and everyday slights, insults, indignities and denigrating messages sent to people of color by well-intentioned White people who are unaware of the hidden messages being communicated.”
Keeping the achievements of the black community in mind and recognizing the struggle necessary for these achievements to take place will surely help all of us avoid giving offense unintentionally.