Ever since Gerald Ford officially declared February “Black History Month” in 1976, he called upon the public to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history,” according to History.com.
The theme for this year, 2022, is “Black Health and Wellness;” putting a microscope on the American healthcare system in predominantly Black communities, essential workers of color, the impact the economy has played on Black Americans for years and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, among other issues.
Kobe Perry, 22, works in Clay County, Florida, as an engineer at a local fire station. The job description includes more responsibilities than one may have imagined—the obvious responsibility is responding to fire calls.
The hidden responsibilities? Maintaining and understanding equipment, medical calls and the occasional broken water pipe which, by the way, they can do nothing about.
People call 911 for a lot of reasons, Perry explained, and depending on the dispatcher who answers, firefighters will get sent to the scene even if they, really, can’t do anything to help the situation. These workers respond to us in our moments of true panic.
What I have not yet mentioned about Perry is that he has a Black father and a white mother; probably because that is not a necessary part of the job description.
Growing up mixed was an interesting experience, he said. Raised predominantly by his mother, he was quick to learn the difference between the “accepted,” or “white” way of talking as compared to the “wrong,” or “black” way.
“Being mixed less affects how I see myself and more how other people see me,” he said. “Because for whatever reason, people associate sounding intelligent with being a certain color.”
According to 2019 data, approximately 72.7% of Clay County residents were white; seven times more than the 10.3% represented by Black residents.
Perry has seen a lot on his various calls, he said, one of which a man had an entire comforter made out of confederate flags.
“I have never personally had an outwardly racist experience on the call,” Perry said. “I have definitely gotten looks, but people tend to put it aside when they realize you’re the one working on saving their mom.”
The concept of “essential workers” became ever more prevalent to us as a nation during the heightened risks that came along with the COVID-19 pandemic; shining, yet another light, on the fact that skin color has nothing to do with one’s abilities, intelligence or occupation.
Do we acknowledge the color of someone’s skin? Yes, absolutely. It would be ridiculous not to notice it, Perry said. Just as one person has curly hair and another has straight; the problem is not noticing the color of someone’s skin, but rather, treating them differently because of it.
“When someone says ‘I don’t see color,’ as a way of saying they aren’t racist, it doesn’t sit right with me,” he said. “Nobody sees in just black and white, and even if you did, you could tell the difference. People are not the same and you need to see those differences to understand what Black people go through.”
So, using terms like “colorblind,” or stating one “does not see color,” does not necessarily make an individual “woke,” or not racist. In fact, it might suggest the opposite.
Black History Month is also a time where people not directly immersed in diverse communities may learn new information or words such as “systemic racism.” The term is used frequently, though, to define it can be challenging.
USA TODAY defines the term as “a reference to the systems in place that create and maintain inequality in nearly every facet of life for people of color.”
“I think there is a misconception is that all Black people understand what systemic racism is,” Perry said. “I don’t think anyone really, fully understand systemic racism.”
To grasp, in its entirety, racism being so firmly rooted in United States’ history would require relentless research dating back to the very first ship of slaves brought to this country against their will.
It is long, and it is heavy.
“You can view it from the top, down or the bottom, up,” Perry said. “Regardless, you will see racism in the leaders of our country who are of the age when segregation was ending for their parents. Who knows what they are teaching their children?”
While Black History Month is, in fact, just one month long, designating a theme and timeframe to the issues in our country demands media attention and, thus, attention from the people absorbing that media.
“The concept of it [BHM] being one month is good because it forces people to listen who, otherwise, would remain ignorant to Black history,” Perry said. “But there is also a negative connotation in stating ‘these people need their own month to reflect on everything, despite it being built on their backs.’”
Black History Month, Perry said, is a time for him to reflect on the fact that the foundation of the United States was built of the backs of Black people forced into the country to be used as slaves, and yet, this country is still racist, he said.
Granted, enormous strides have been made in the fight for equality, but the work is far from finished.
Keep going, keep learning!
History.com has created in-depth “study guides” ranging in topics from slavery, the Black soldier, the Civil Rights Movement and other important moments in Black history. Each guide is its own immersive PDF that allows you to learn more. Check it out here!
In 2020, following the death of George Floyd, The Washington Post comprised a list of “13 books on the history of black America who really want to learn.” The books, similar to History.com, consist of stories about slavery, abolition, urban America, Black music and art and more. Check out the full list here!
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