Is Black History Month Necessary? Tammy Johnson on KALW’s Your Call [AUDIO]

By Tammy Johnson Feb 08, 2010

I really enjoy the push and pull of a good political conversation, especially ones that apply big questions of policy of philosophy to real life situations. That’s a good thing, since I seem to find myself in the middle of them these days — from the hot debate about state budget cuts in social services at my beauty parlor last week, to the inquiry about the relevance of Black History Month on the radio yesterday.

Download the mp3 (24 MB) Rose Aguilar, the host of Your Call Radio on KALW 91.7, was a great instigator of thought, challenging us to defend our positions. And we guests — Dr. Daryl Michael Scott of the Study of African American Life and History, filmmaker Kevin Epps, and myself — didn’t duck the hard questions. The conversation raised some intriguing questions and responses: What does Black History Month have to teach us? Everyone has an important role to play in advancing the movement to racial justice. Some of us write books, others mount major issue campaigns, some make films and still others sing protest songs. Aren’t we post-racial? Is Black History Month necessary anymore? Black History Month, much like any other event in this society, is what you make of it. It could and has been commoditized as an occasion to pat ourselves on the back, assuming that all the hard work has been done. But at best the month should be a time where we evaluate our movement work, asking ourselves what have been the lessons learned and how do we go about pressing forward. What does Black history have to do with what’s going on today? Let’s take the work that had be done to pass the various civil rights acts into law as an example. Recently, California Bay Area groups won a victory against the Bay Area Rapid Transit Authority using Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. Federal authorities agreed that the increase in fares and reduction in services unfairly impacted the poor and communities of color and as a result are withholding 70 million dollars in stimulus funding. One could argue that the next step is to ensure that those dollars go toward providing jobs and environmental benefits to those same impacted communities. That’s an example of past meeting the present and potentially having an impact on the future.