Viewpoint: Black History Month has special importance in 2022

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Viewpoint: Black History Month has special importance in 2022

In denouncing the investigations into his financial and political crimes, Trump attacked the ”racist” (black) prosecutors, inviting a redux of Jan. 6 violent intimidation while stoking racist animus that fires up his base. Meanwhile, the rightwingers on the Supreme Court have agreed to take a case likely leading to ending affirmative action – which if anyone thought about it, is preferable to outright payment of reparations for centuries of enslavement and discrimination.

States are passing laws allowing prosecution of teachers who dare teach the history of racism, discrimination, genocide, while banning books – fiction (“Dear Martin”) and nonfiction (“1619 Project”) – that document systemic racism. And on the opening day of Black History Month, Feb. 1, there were a dozen bomb threats to Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

Indeed, instead of cheering President Joe Biden’s announcement that he intends to make a historic nomination to the Supreme Court, the first black woman to have a seat at that table that is playing an increasingly powerful role in everyday lives, without even knowing who the candidate is, Republican senators including Ted Cruz are already denouncing this as “affirmative action” to suggest the nominee would somehow not come up to the mark (looking at you, Clarence Thomas).

These are proof positive of the very same systemic racism that motivated those marching for justice for George Floyd and for all those who are shot or abused by racist law enforcement; for those prisoners incarcerated for disproportionately longer sentences by racist judges; for those who languish in jail because they don’t have cash bail, so they lose their job, housing and custody; and for the millions, now, who are being disenfranchised by voter suppression laws and gerrymandering specifically targeting people of color.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is giving Republican governors a new weapon with which to intimidate voters of color: setting up an “election police force,” reminiscent of the KKK and Trump calling for armed thugs to stand up at polling places. It is exactly as President Biden has said, Jim Crow 2.0 in 2022 America.

Black History Month is supposed to be an antidote to centuries of dehumanizing, negating, diminishing the contributions African Americans have made to this country. We get to meet important figures we never heard of in our classrooms.

“Across the generations, countless Black Americans have demonstrated profound moral courage and resilience to help shape our Nation for the better,” President Biden said in proclaiming Black History Month. “In the face of wounds and obstacles older than our Nation itself, Black Americans can be seen in every part of our society today, strengthening and uplifting all of America.”

Black History Month, he noted, should remind us all that “Black history is American history, Black culture is American culture, and Black stories are essential to the ongoing story of America — our faults, our struggles, our progress, and our aspirations.

Shining a light on Black history today is as important to understanding ourselves and growing stronger as a Nation as it has ever been. That is why it is essential that we take time to celebrate the immeasurable contributions of Black Americans, honor the legacies and achievements of generations past, reckon with centuries of injustice, and confront those injustices that still fester today.

“Our Nation was founded on an idea: that all of us are created equal and deserve to be treated with equal dignity throughout our lives,” Biden proclaimed. “It is a promise we have never fully lived up to but one that we have never, ever walked away from. The long shadows of slavery, Jim Crow, and redlining — and the blight of systemic racism that still diminishes our Nation today – hold America back from reaching our full promise and potential. But by facing those tragedies openly and honestly and working together as one people to deliver on America’s promise of equity and dignity for all, we become a stronger Nation – a more perfect version of ourselves.”

His effort to democratize America is evident in his appointments to his cabinet and judiciary – indeed, his Vice President – and how he is implementing historic levels of investment in infrastructure, climate action, environmental protection, health care, making up for centuries of inequities, from vaccine shots and health care to a landmark $5.8 billion investment in Historically Black colleges and universities, to the Child Tax Credit benefitting more than 26 million children and putting the nation on a path to cut Black child poverty in half.

The infrastructure law, Biden noted, is making investments to replace the lead service lines that have contaminated the water of too many homes and schools in Black communities (recall Flint, Mich.); deliver high-speed internet to every community so that no Black family is left behind in the 21st century economy; build up public transportation so more people in more neighborhoods can get to where good jobs are quickly and safely in a climate-sustainable way; reconnecting the Black neighborhoods cut off from opportunity by highways; remediate the long-standing environmental injustices that have hit Black communities the hardest; deliver major investments in Black entrepreneurs and small businesses, including making the Minority Business Development Agency permanent and seeding it with a record $110 million to help level the playing field.

But none of this will be meaningful unless voting rights can be restored. “We will not rest until we have protected the foundation of our democracy: the sacred right to vote. And we will fight to keep dismantling all of those structural inequities that have served as barriers for Black families for generations,” Biden stated.

“As we celebrate National Black History Month, let us all recommit ourselves to reach for that founding promise,” Biden proclaimed. “Let us continue to fight for the equity, opportunity, and dignity to which every Black American is due in equal measure. Let us carry forward the work to build an America that is, in the beautiful words of the poet Amanda Gorman, ‘Bruised, but whole — benevolent, but bold, fierce, and free’.”

Fulfilling this ideal is not just to the benefit of Black Americans, Asian Americans (hate crimes are on the rise), Jewish Americans (anti-Semitism is also on the rise), indeed minorities and the vulnerable of every stripe, but all of us. E pluribus unum.

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