Let’s get honest for a minute. Things in this country have become very contentious and, as a nation, we seem more divided than ever. Whether it’s religion, politics, race, or gender, it feels like we’re being forced to choose a side on something all day, every day. The worst part is that, in the middle of all of this chaos, there’s a lot of misunderstanding and a lack of information fueling the animosity.
This year, for Black History Month, I ask you to consider a different approach. See this as an opportunity to learn more about the real history of African-Americans. Reflect on what you discover and think about the impact on the lives of your friends, family, and co-workers. The need to find common ground so we can build a better society makes this a very important opportunity.
There are so many details thrown around about how African-Americans came to exist on this continent so, rather than rely on anecdotal talk, take some time to research this event. It impacted the lives of an entire race of people, separated families, and resulted in countless deaths. It’s not something that should be taken lightly.
Be sure the information you find is from reliable sources. A Google search could take you to reputable sites such as History.com, PBS, National Geographic, or The Smithsonian. It could also lead you to someone’s inaccurate, biased website or blog post. Reading the details on multiple sites can also provide a well-rounded picture of how slavery began in America.
Watch Inspiring Movies
There are many, many movies that you can watch over the course of this month to celebrate Black History Month. To take a look back at history, good selections include Amistad, 12 Years a Slave, Selma, Loving, The Color Purple, and even Blackkklansman. These might be difficult to watch (or believe) on some level but the insight you gain will be worth it.
There are also many films, based on events both real and fictional, that share stories of perseverance and triumph. Hidden Figures, Black Panther, and even The Help are great examples of screenplays that showcase the realities and possibilities from years past, present, and in the future.
Visit a Museum
People love museums because they make history come to life. This can be especially helpful when you’re trying to understand something as complex and nuanced as racism, oppression, and segregation. Those concepts can be so far from anything we’ve experienced that it can be difficult to truly grasp. Museums do a great job of helping us put the pieces together.
This is a great activity for family members of all ages. The new National Museum of African American History and Culture at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. is absolutely incredible. Of course, depending on where you live, this may not be a practical option. Fortunately, there are many similar museums throughout the country. Check your local area and, if you find one, consider paying a visit. You may be surprised by what you learn.
Listen and Learn
Too often, people dismiss events such as slavery, segregation, and the Civil Rights Movement as having happened “a long time ago.” The truth is that, if Martin Luther King Jr. had never been assassinated, he’d be the same age as Barbara Walters. We are still well within his lifetime and the generation he hoped to free from segregation and oppression are among the Baby Boomer generation, like my own mother. In fact, it’s only been 50 years since interracial marriage became legal (the result of a lengthy court battle).
One of the best things you can do is ask someone in your life about their experiences. Let them tell you about their daily struggles and those of their parents and grandparents. Listen without being defensive, and let their words sink in. Hear their concerns about what’s happening in their world and think about the ways in which living, working, and raising children might be different for them.
Learn About the Culture
When people are removed from their country of origin and congregate in a new destination, they create a new culture. The evolution of food and music among African-Americans, for example, is incredibly layered and can be really eye-opening. Indeed, learning about this can provide valuable insight into why certain things, such as blackface, can be so hurtful and offensive.
It doesn’t have to be heavy, though. From the hymns slaves sung to get through long days working on plantations to John Legend’s “Glory,” let your exploration of the music be a celebration of the African-American journey.
As for the food, yes you will find fried chicken on the menu at most soul food restaurants, but it’s so much more than that. The Black Foodie site, along with Epicurious, provides a really engaging account of the history of soul food and why it’s important to look beyond the fried (and tasty) dishes.
Just Show Respect
More than anything, for Black History Month this year, be respectful. On so many levels, it feels like our society is losing empathy and compassion for each other. We should always strive to learn more and connect with our fellow human beings and, even if you’ve never understood why this observance exists, dig deep to try to understand right now. Look around at how divided we’ve become and try to be a part of the solution.
As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “” have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.” That message is so fitting for today and is something we should carry with us every day.