The shortest month of the year has arrived, and all around us, celebrations of black history are taking place. USC has planned a number of events that will showcase the lives and legacies of African-Americans in our nation’s history. Carolina Dining has planned a month of food that represents the culture of African-American students and ancestors. The Association of African-American Students will be hosting oratorical contests and other events to highlight the talents of minority students.
Yes, February is the one month out of the year when black people are really excited about being black and everybody is concerned about the state of affairs within the black community. We are sure to hear university administrators and other prominent officials celebrate the contributions made by African-Americans to this state and this great institution. For at least 28 days, USC pauses to remember its history cannot be accurately told without stories of slaves who helped construct the buildings in the historic Horseshoe. For at least 28 days, Columbia pauses to remember its story cannot be accurately told without stories of Modjeska Monteith Simkins and Charles F. Bolden. For at least 28 days, South Carolina pauses to ponder stories of the African-Americans whose lives were forever changed by legally sanctioned racism and discrimination. For at least 28 days, the nation pauses to remember that while America is the greatest country on Earth, we struggle each day to perfect an imperfect union.
Black History Month is indeed a time for deep reflection about the past and all it entails with regard to African-Americans, but do not become so nostalgic about the marches of the past that you forget there are some metaphorical marches that need to occur on our streets today. We need to march against the “corridor of shame” that disparately impacts minority students who live in the poorest and most rural areas of South Carolina. We need to march against the belief that a black kid growing up in the ghetto has any less potential than a white kid growing up in the suburbs. We need to march against policies that negatively impact the lives of the most vulnerable among us.
There’s nothing wrong with putting on dashikis and Kente cloth, or singing Negro spirituals and quoting Martin Luther King Jr. But what will we do when we’re done putting on our once-a-year front? Contrary to what Carolina Dining and USC officials may have you believe, celebrating Black History Month is about much more than eating your fill of collards and fried chicken, or being able to recite “I Have a Dream.” Celebrating Black History Month is about ensuring no future generation has to suffer the manacles of segregation and oppression. It’s about building your fellow man up instead of tearing him down. It’s about working to ensure that the story of a people is celebrated not 28 but 365 days a year.