Ravi K. Perry (PhD, Brown University, 2009) is an assistant professor of political science and Stennis Scholar for Municipal Governance at Mississippi State University. He is the editor of 21st Century Urban Race Politics: Representing Minorities as Universal Interests (Emerald Group, forthcoming).
Building Community in February: America’s History Month
We are a diverse nation. But are we a diverse community? How we think of, participate in, and care about Black History Month helps us to answer that question.
To build community is to help to make real the promises of democracy enshrined in our nation’s founding documents.
What began as Negro History Week is now known as Black History Month. The transition from “Negro” to “Black” and week to month is testament alone to so-called progress. But has every community of Americans equally been given the opportunity to move on the upward way?
Let us take the month of February as an example. It is called Black History Month. But February is not just for black people. Every year, just two weeks after the celebration of the birth, life, and legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the nation is said to commit to celebrate Black History Month. But few people actually do.
In many sectors of American society and neighborhood enclaves, Black History Month has become as trite as Kwanzaa. Many African Americans, let alone other groups, do not celebrate Kwanzaa. But the lack of appropriate and consistent recognition of blacks’ contributions to American life, politics, and culture is not the fault of African Americans, Caucasian Americans, or any other group. It’s indicative of a failure of recognition and an attempt at revisionist history by all of us.
Black history is American history. American history is black history. The month of February is not merely an opportunity for black Americans to remember the heroes and sheroes of eras past. The month of February is an opportunity for every American to engage in the amazing and powerful episodes of our past that have helped us become the nation we are today.
And Black History Month is an ideal time for us to come together as one nation—united we stand—to honor the lives of all Americans and particularly black Americans.
A coming together is nothing new. Blacks have long appealed to whites to join with them in the fight for equality and equity. People of different faiths, different backgrounds, and different skin colors working together for what is right have always championed the cause of social justice on behalf of blacks and all people. In Black Mayors, White Majorities I add to that longstanding tradition in American politics and history that demonstrates the power of community when people of difference come together. I invite you to join me in this effort by making an impact in your community by organizing and/or attending events honoring the lives of African Americans this February. And, of course, you can also purchase my book.
It’s time to stop merely celebrating black history and herstory. It’s time to honor black history and herstory in the present with our actions. Let’s commit to creating actions that produce substantive benefits for blacks and all people. Black history and herstory is global history. We all have a moral obligation to see to it that the spirit of black heroes and sheroes (and allies) from eras past are vindicated by the improvements to the quality of life we work to secure for all human beings today, tomorrow, and forever.
Together, we can. And, for the sake of the nation, we must.
-Ravi K. Perry