Since 1976, every U.S. president has designated February as Black History Month. In February, the struggles and successes of the black community are highlighted and recognized nationally. In February, we lift up the voices and stories of members of our community who have been oppressed since before the conception of this country, and remain oppressed today. However, when considering Black History Month, we need to be careful. Students and the college cannot descend into the pitfall of patting themselves on the back for recognizing Black History Month in February and then forgetting about it March through January. When we think about this month, we should think about the reason the month is required in the first place — we need to prioritize black voices because society at large fails to do so.
At Swat, the theme of this Black History Month’s series of events is “reclaiming our voices.” We at the Phoenix value how organizations and departments across campus come together during this month to have discussions about creating a more inclusive and supportive environment, both at Swarthmore and beyond. Just some of the departments supporting events this year have been the Black Cultural Center, Intercultural Center, Department of Educational Studies, Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility, Department of English, and Swarthmore African American Student Society. These departments and organizations have sponsored events such as a public conversation with Thomas Defrantz, an artist who created a dance about “The Black Magic of Living,” and an open mic night entitled “And Still we Rise” to highlight the black experience. In hosting these events, the campus is taking a collective role in bringing light to what it means to be black in today’s society.
As students, it is our role to attend these events and engage in the conversations around inclusion, strengthening our community, and taking action against injustices. Yet, it is also our duty to continue these conversations beyond the month of February. Not only do we as students need to purposefully engage with issues of race, both with our peers and with our acquaintances outside of Swarthmore, but we also need to continue to work with the BCC, IC and other groups on campus to facilitate events throughout the year that embrace the beauties behind diversity and fight the bigotry currently surrounding society.
The administration also needs to take responsibility for their role in reclaiming voices by listening to and prioritizing the voices of black students, who have in the past and continue to demand accountability and consideration. This means taking concrete steps towards creating a Black Studies department, not just a program. This means financially and symbolically supporting both programming and courses surrounding issues of race. This means doing better than before.
Maya Angelou once said, “Won’t it be wonderful when black history and native American history and Jewish history and all of U.S. history is taught from one book.” That day — the day where the histories of disenfranchised communities are represented fully and faithfully in textbooks — will indeed be wonderful. When celebrating black history month, we must keep in mind that day has not yet come, and there is much work to be done to achieve it.