Why America still needs Black History Month? The answer is painfully simple
In 1955, Rosa Parks sparked a civil-rights revolt by refusing to give up her bus seat to a White passenger in segregated Montgomery, Alabama.
In 2009, 54 years later, Barack Obama became the first African-American president of the United States. Obama's ascension to the White House epitomized — if not the end of racial divide in America — at least remarkable advancement toward equality in this country.
The nation had finally embraced a Black president. Rosa Parks could finally rest in peace. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., whose audacity to fight for equality cost him his life, could finally rest in peace.
All of us – White, Black, Hispanics, Asian-Americans and everyone else – could finally work, play and love in peace in this great United States of America.
Wrong. Painfully wrong.
This Black History Month is a painful reminder of how equality can often be merely an illusion. Yes, tremendous progress has been accomplished and Barack Obama’s presidency proved it.
But Obama is no longer president. And the divide between Black and White, between brown and White, between rich and poor, couldn’t be wider.
My heart bursts with pride about all the African-Americans’ cultural, political and economic contributions highlighted as part of Black History Month. Blacks fought and died for civil rights. They gave us the sounds of blues, jazz and so many, many other things.
It pains me to write about Black History Month – Feb. 1-28. Or of the Hispanic Heritage Month in September. Why do we need a designated month to be celebrated only to be forgotten – discounted, marginalized and fought against the rest of the year?
Blacks and Hispanics are the largest minority groups in this country, yet we still need a designated month to highlight our existence? Non-minorities often voice the same question.
The answer is simple. Because striving for equality is far from achieving it. Because minority contributions are often ignored throughout the year so at least there is a month to underscore our existence.
At least once a year, we get to remember Martin Luther King’s dream of an America that welcomes and treats everyone equally.
Yes, there is a lot to celebrate. America is no longer legally segregated and progress has been made on some fronts. For instance, there are 52 Black representatives in Congress this year, a record and a substantial increase since 1965, according to the Pew Research Center.
But the progress has been agonizingly slow.
Consider: Fortunate 500 companies are still predominantly White, national and statewide office holders are still predominantly White. Even the Oscars — the liberal bastion that is Hollywood — remains overwhelmingly White, as evidenced by the #OscarsTooWhite movement.
In an ideal America – in a truly color-blind America – there shouldn’t be the need for a Black History Month or a Hispanic Heritage Month.
But the fact that we still do tells me this: Rosa Parks can’t rest in peace. Martin Luther King can’t rest in peace. None of us can sit back, remain silent and rest in peace until real equality – transcending beyond race – is accomplished.
We can’t rest until women are paid the same as men for the same kind of work or until minorities graduate from high school and college at the same rate as Whites.
We can’t rest until prisons aren’t crowded with mostly minorities or until America doesn't need a month to celebrate us. We can't rest until America doesn’t question our worthiness because of the color of our skin.
Elvia Díaz is an editorial columnist for The Republic and azcentral. Reach her at 602-444-8606 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter, @elviadiaz1.
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