Black History Month text image

By Courtney Baker, PMHNP

Social scientists have estimated that roughly 40-50% of our daily activities consist of behaviors that are habitual and automatic. We drive to work without thinking about how we got there. We go to the grocery store and forget what we just purchased. We auto-pay our household bills. When we awaken, our phones alert us to overnight breaking news stories (Yes, Taylor Swift will be able to make it to the Super Bowl from Japan!). With so much technology in our world, and a constant assault on our attention, we do almost everything without having to think too much. Even as I type this sentence, Auto-GPT and autocorrect “suggest” what I do next. Indeed, we have become creatures of habit and comfort.

But what does this have to do with Black History Month? Everything. I love that Google has animated Black History characters when we type in a new search. But for some of us, and I dare say, too many of us, that’s the only Black History inputs that we may get this month. Honestly, February doesn’t look or feel that differently than January, so unless we’re forced to recognize the significance of the month, our hectic lives will continue the same way they usually do – routinely and autopiloted. If we easily fall prey in predictable patterns of action, how much more will our thoughts remain the same unless they are challenged?

Celebrating Black History Month forces intentionality into our lives. Remembering Black History takes us off our daily, well-worn hegemonic paths and forces us to look at a past that is simultaneously beautiful and ugly. Whether you want to say you “celebrate” or “remember,” the point is to acknowledge and respect a marginalized culture inextricably woven into American life. And many times, regardless of heritage or skin tone, that’s not easy.

In 1926, Carter G. Woodson idealized a week to commemorate the accomplishments of people of African descent. Dr. Woodson, the son of formerly enslaved parents, and the second African American to receive a PhD from Harvard University, felt that was necessary to establish the tradition of public remembrance and reflection. In contemplating Negro History Week, he wrote: 

“It is not so much a Negro History Week as it is a History Week. We should emphasise not Negro History, but the Negro in History. What we need is not a history of selected races or nations, but the history of the world void of national bias, race hatred and religious prejudice.” 

Sounds like good advice for 1926–a time marked by the Great Migration, the Harlem Renaissance, bloody race riots, and bigoted laws. But sadly, it also sounds a lot like today. Both anti-Semitism and anti-Palestinianism sentiments are wreaking havoc on our nation’s colleges and universities, leaving students afraid and presidents jobless. In response to record numbers of immigration-seekers, we witness chartered planes and buses to distant cities and the overall criminalization of migration for people from “certain” parts of the world. Regrettably in Ohio, we’ve arrested a Black woman for having a miscarriage, and are terrified of transgirls playing high school sports. Could it be possible that in the almost 100 years after Dr. Woodson imagined Negro Week, that we need Black History Month, Hispanic Heritage Month and Native American Heritage Month now more than ever? Elon Musk believes that “DEI must DIE,” but I soundly think differently. IF we want to be a “better” society, then we must intentionally think about and learn from other peoples and cultures, extending ourselves and our minds. And then we must intentionally do.  

Here’s my own personal list of intentional things to do in and around Bexley, in no particular order. Discuss it, share it, and add to it however you see fit. But, by all means, do something!