Not many people know what it feels like to grow up without a defined culture. However, this is something that African Americans understand all too well.
It is common for African Americans to feel that part of their cultural background is missing due to the fact that many of them do not know where they came from, or because the culture they do have is not recognized. Sure, they can identify themselves as “black,” but cannot give a specific nationality.
One of the reasons Black History Month exists is to help African Americans embrace and spread knowledge about their culture. During this month, we celebrate the unrecognized African American philosophers, inventors, authors and visionaries who receive little to no credit in history classrooms for what they contributed to society.
This month at FSU, we have had some events that were dedicated to acknowledging Black History Month and spreading the true knowledge of black culture.
Students were able to have discussions that would otherwise make them uncomfortable in a judgment-free setting Tuesday, Feb. 25 in DPAC. The main topic was “Lightskin vs. Darkskin.”
Black Student Union presented the 300-year-old issue of colorism – being judged based on your skin tone. They gave background information about colorism going back to when plantation owners would separate the house slaves with lighter skin from the field slaves with darker skin. They explained that this was meant to split the slaves up to create conflict between the two sides. Eventually, the idea that the light-skinned slaves were better than the dark-skinned slaves developed, because they were closer to being white.
Students were prompted with questions such as “Which side [lightskin or darkskin] experiences more discrimination?” and “How does colorism affect your dating life?” Stereotypes about different skin tones were also discussed.
Many students agreed that African Americans with darker skin, especially females, experience more discrimination. Society often considers girls with darker skin unattractive, which causes the trend of skin-bleaching. Men with darker skin are considered to be thugs that are manly and dangerous. Light-skinned black men are joked about for being highly emotional.
The small group talked about how long these issues will last, and how they could be solved in the future. One student noted that being able to joke about it today with Instagram pictures and memes shows that we are progressing. Many agreed that as a society, it is healthy for us to be able to joke about subjects that are normally taboo. The next step would be to have group discussions, like this one in DPAC, to share ideas and views about these topics.
This Wednesday, the Multicultural Center also sponsored an event that brought a diverse group of students together to talk about the death of Trayvon Martin, which occurred two years ago on Feb. 26. Kathy Martinez, director of the Multicultural Center, along with Sociology Professors Daisy Ball and Xavier Guadalupe-Dias, led a discussion giving the details of the case and explaining why it was such a big deal in the media.
Students with different opinions talked about why George Zimmerman chose to pursue Martin, what could’ve really happened between the two men and how this case – and the Stand Your Ground law – has influenced similar cases today.
Students examined the concept of racial profiling and discrimination. Many agreed that Zimmerman was wrong to follow Martin, as he was asked not to by the 911 operator. The Stand Your Ground law was seen as a good idea, but too vague to be considered a solid law. Guadalupe-Dias showed charts that proved that the law was mainly used in the case of white perpetrators and black victims. This made it clear that it could strongly support cases with racial injustices.
These events help students understand why months such as Hispanic Heritage Month and Women’s History Month are important for people to acknowledge the past. In a typical American classroom, these minority, or suppressed, groups aren’t given the credit they deserve. For example, not many people know that the author of “The Count of Monte Cristo” and “The Three Musketeers” was a black man, Alexander Dumas.
It is important for black history to be recognized during February, but learning about modern black culture is another way to acknowledge the black community. Many important and iconic figures of black culture are usually not talked about, such as female abolitionist Frances Harper, a free black woman who became a poet and activist for black women’s rights. Most people are not aware that Harper is credited as the first African American to have a short story published.
Before the film “12 Years a Slave” came out in 2013, very few people knew the story of Solomon Northup, or that he wrote a best-selling auto-biography in the 19th century. If Black History Month is covered in an academic setting, the names Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and Malcolm X are commonly thrown around. This year, the 50th anniversary of The Civil Rights Act of 1964, should be dedicated to the unsung heroes of black history.
In a social setting, modern black culture and recent black history could be discussed more regularly among friends in celebration of African American culture in order to recognize how far African Americans have come as a community.
During the years of slavery, African Americans weren’t considered to be intelligent and creative individuals. It wasn’t until a few educated pioneers were able to write books, poems and speeches about civil rights that African Americans obtained the equality that they have today.
Although racial inequality is an issue that is constantly evolving and progressing, it is healthy for the black community to look back at the trail it have made for itself. Students at FSU are putting in a strong effort to increase diversity and educate their fellow peers about different cultures.
The point of seeking higher education is to become a well-rounded individual, knowledgeable in various subjects. This includes black history and African American culture. Part of this “higher education” includes attending lectures, discussions and events outside of an academic setting to learn new things. FSU has multiple student-run clubs and organizations dedicated to this cause.
Although February will soon be over, it is important to continue to keep black history in mind. Do not hesitate to talk about a subject that is generally considered uncomfortable, because many societal issues depend on it.