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“He’s so articulate” and other things to consider during Black History Month

I brace myself for the inevitable achievements that will occur during Black History Month in February.

Harvard Scholar Dr. Carter G. Woodson is credited with creating black history as a focal point, he was dedicated to bringing black history into the mainstream of America. Woodson devoted his life to making “the world see the Negro as a participant rather than as a lay figure in history.”

Some news outlet will show someone doing or saying something incredibly racist at some point between Feb. 1 and 28. People will gasp and say, “I don’t believe this can happen in 2007!”

In another case a black man speaks English in complete sentences and a white guy meaning no harm will say to me, “I like him he’s so articulate.” The “white guy” was talking about Barack Obama, and that happened in January.

First lesson in Race relations 101: Don’t call a black person who speaks well “articulate” because it implies that you expect less.

He meant no harm. He really meant to be complementary. But sometimes the subtle racism of low expectations creates tension.

Throughout our history consider that in many parts of our country poor education, inadequate housing and incomplete medical care were the hallmark of a black life in America.

The scars of the past are not going to disappear in a generation. The scars of not being expected to achieve are devastating and long lasting.

Imagine being denied the opportunity to attend school, vote or claim ownership of invented products. Or being lynched having been accused of looking the wrong way at the wrong colored woman.

Imagine African-American women who for centuries had to view others as being glamorous. It wasn’t until the late nineteen seventies when black women were elevated to their current status of parity with any supermodel in the world. Iman, Tyra, Vanessa Williams, Hallie Berry, the list goes on and on.

When the shackles of low expectations are cast away black men and women excel.

In the history of America, black men and women produced many inventions -from the development of crop rotation, the traffic light, the mail box, gas mask, fountain pen, typewriter, telegraph, golf tee, automatic gear shift, commode toilet – to the method of dry cleaning clothes, the electric lamp, and the automatic car coupler and air brake for the railroad. That’s what we celebrate this month.

In our haste to put race behind us as a society we must also remember how we got here. And where we are isn’t as bad as it was for the last generation. Access to education, voting rights and an end to state sponsored racial terror took centuries.

There are those this month who’ll tell you that, “things are just as bad as they were years ago.” No, they’re not. And others who’ll tell you that we’ve arrived at that place were King’s dream speech can be realized. Nope.

The answer is somewhere in between.
We have overcome.
Now it’s up to us.

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