Monday, February 7, 2011

This Week: The State of the (Dis)Union

Happy Black History Month, everyone. Another year, another 3rd grade class memorizing the "I Have a Dream" speech. The Super Bowl this weekend will be sure to feature ads about the American spirit, supporting our troops, and of course a stellar national anthem before kickoff. This is one of those days of the year when all Americans come together to do what we do best- eat and cheer for our team! Like the fabric of the Super Bowl team uniforms, our nation is comprised of every shade from black and white to yellow and green.

The theme of the George Washington University's 2011 Black History Month celebration is Marked, and is supposed to serve as a springboard for discussion about all of the different ways in which black Americans have been marked and "how they're still signaled [sic] out today". Our markings come from an incomplete portray by the media of what it means to be African-American. Even the first edition of the highly celebrated CNN Black in America special showed more of the desolation and desperation that black Americans face in the country, than it did of the triumphs and achievements. In a public health setting, black Americans are often marked by statistics showing immense disparity between us and every other race represented in this nation. From HIV/AIDS prevalence to low birth weight, black Americans consistently come out in last place.

Labels and markings have also spurred disagreement within the black community itself. Forgetting for a moment that there is strength in numbers, we pit good hair against nappy hair, light skin over dark skin, and even immigrant blacks over African-Americans. Is there a need for one group to assimilate entirely just because our ancestral origin is the same? Absolutely not. We know that collard greens and calaloo may come from the same plant, but taste entirely different. The African diaspora is the same way. Our roots are the same, but we've sprouted into individually thriving and uniquely beautiful plants. The most important thing that we have in common is that we call the United States home. So, different as we may be, that fabric would be weaker without the thread that each and every one of us contributes.

Simply blaming "the media" for an inaccurate portrayl or ignorant perspective is not enough. We will make no changes by pointing fingers or waving white flags. Opening up the floor for discussion is a great start. Even in a recent BPHSN meeting, the topic was raised about how to have these real conversations with individuals who may have never been exposed to anything or anyone outside of their comfort zone. In the classroom, the library or student lounge, there are opportunities for globilization even among those with whom we share a building every day. Further, we should feel free to speak candidly about what it is that makes us different, and how our individual contributions have strengthened the nation as a whole. That, I believe, is really what Black History Month is all about. Learning our history, reciting speeches and singing the Negro National Anthem are all ways in which we can honor and celebrate our past. Moving forward, we must all individually contribute to building understanding so that our future is just as rich.  The work we have to do is what our kids will learn about and reenact during their Black History Month celebrations. Let us have patience to teach others about where we've come from, where we are, and then show them where we are going.

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