February is Black History Month. But honoring the history of Black people’s struggles against oppression and exploitation, from slave revolts, the Underground Railroad, and the Civil Rights Movement to today’s fights against racist police practices and voter suppression means looking to the future as well as the past.
In the United States today, we face a wave of racist policies and actions, including the following:
- At least 19 states passed 34 laws in 2021 aiming to deprive People of Color of their hard-won voting rights.
- In the last year, 14 states have enacted laws or regulations restricting teaching and learning the history of systemic racism in the U.S. Also, 35 states have taken other steps, including considering bills that would restrict such learning.
- Recently there has been a racist outcry against the possibility of nominating a Black woman to the Supreme Court for the first time. In all of U.S. history, only seven of 115 people appointed to the Supreme Court have not been white men.
- Current efforts to close 16 schools in Oakland, CA (and similar efforts across the country) heavily impact Black and Brown students.
- Black History Month 2022 started with coordinated bomb threats against at least two dozen Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), terrorizing students, faculty, and staff.
The racism of this society is relentless. And these challenges demand action. And they are certainly not the only challenges. The long history of racist policies and practices continues today in other ways, including segregated and under-resourced housing and schools, food deserts, medical care deserts, racist policing, and more. And the past two years of this pandemic have shown all too well the racial inequality in our society through the disproportionately higher death toll among Blacks, Latinos and Native Americans.
The politicians of this society have passed anti-racist legislation and the courts have made anti-racist decisions only when people have risked their lives and their freedom with civil disobedience and taking to the streets in large numbers. This was true in the 1950s and ‘60s with the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements. And it has been true in recent years with the uprisings against racist cop violence.
Black History Month is about history — a history of struggle and resistance. And it is a reminder that Black people and other oppressed people make the history we need by taking it into our own hands.