SUNY Oneonta Students on Black History Month

Cheyenne Dorsagno, Editor-in-Chief |

When I was considering writing an article about Black History Month, I was worried that no one would be interested in the topic the day after the month’s close, but that’s the very issue that many SUNY Oneonta students have with Black History Month.

41 SUNY Oneonta students took a survey in which they explained their feelings about this celebratory time. Albeit, this is not an expansive study of the student body, it is an interesting sample.

About 78 percent of the respondents said that they think that Black History Month should continue every year.

One student, who wishes to remain anonymous, gave the following reasoning: “Celebrating black and brown voices of America is crucial to how we navigate our current lives within intersections of race, class, and other identities.”

Some would argue that the American school system is not responsible for teaching children about any culture or history other than that of the U.S. However, that is the point being made: African-American history is American history. This country cannot be understood without acknowledging the influences and innovations of its black citizens. This significance is not just in terms of African-Americans furthering their own civil rights, as I have heard Gil Scott-Heron’s poetry cited too many times to count: “The revolution will not be televised.” African-Americans have bettered the lives of all Americans; Marie Van Brittan Brown was the forerunner of modern home security and George Crum is responsible for the potato chip as we know it today.

Even still, students are solely expected to learn the history of Western Civilization. This is likely because the majority of Americans in power descend from a Western country, and these Americans have been asserted as the “standard.”

Senior Rebecca Pollard added, “It’s important to recognize the many African-Americans who helped to make this nation what it is today. They’ve been looked over and their contributions have been ignored or outright denied throughout the majority of our history.”

Many respondents expressed Pollard’s logic in one way or another. On the other hand, some people only think of Black History Month as a memory of past transgressions by white Americans, perhaps as a bitter reminder, as a sign of respect to the black victims, or as a cautionary tale to civilization going forward.

Around 11 percent of SUNY Oneonta students felt that Black History Month should not continue every year, and nine percent of respondents were either inconclusive or uncaring about the subject. There is often immediate hesitancy when someone says that Black History Month should be canceled.

One anonymous student said, “If everyone is equal, no group, race, or religion should have nationally dedicated days or months.”

While this may be true, the situation is not that simple. Of course, everyone is equal under the law, but in reality, people simply are not treated equally. Certain white people take this as a personal accusation of racism, but if they themselves are not racist, then they should not respond with guilt. If people who claim to champion equality truly do so, then they will be interested in learning about inequality and how they can bring justice. Regardless of people’s perception on how frequently racism occurs, one act of discrimination is one too many. The world will never be perfect, but we should never stop holding people accountable.

There is an infinite amount of anecdotal evidence proving the existence of racism today, but studies show that racism is a prevalent systematic problem in American society.

According to The Young Turks, black children make up 18 percent of the preschool population but they make up almost half of out-of-school suspensions. Preconceptions about race are pushed upon Americans from a young age. Black kids are 18 times more likely to be sentenced as adults for the same crimes as white kids, as shown by the American Psychological Association.

Black college graduates struggle twice as much as their white counterparts to find jobs, and people with “black sounding names” have to send out 50 percent more applications just to get a call back for an interview. If a black person kills a white person, they are twice as likely to receive the death penalty than in the reverse situation, as cited by The Young Turks. These statistics show the dehumanization of African-Americans in favor of whites, perhaps subconsciously at times.

According to Upworthy, in 1952, the Boston Symphony had the good intentions of diversifying their male-dominated orchestra, so they held blind auditions. Still, the applicants accepted were largely male. After having the applicants remove their shoes, the amount of women accepted increased by 50 percent. Apparently, the sound of the women’s heels clicking when they walked in the room caused unintentional bias among the judges. Some would argue that, due to being conditioned by American culture, everyone has to make a conscious effort every day to fight their miseducation. Sometimes, good intentions don’t necessarily yield good results.

Still, many people find it hard to believe that racism is a systematic issue, or they don’t find racism to be much more of a problem than “a difference of opinion.” Institutions of power such as prisons, educational facilities, places of employment, etc. shape the quality of people’s lives. They are inherently flawed places, because they are run by human beings. In these institutions, it is not required that the participants be examined for prejudices, and there’s no reason why prejudiced people wouldn’t end up there. Ruby Bridges, the first African-American child to desegregate an all-white school, is only 62-years-old today. The racists of the Jim Crow era are still alive today, raising children with their ideals. This shameful time is not so easily left in the past.

One student summed up many others’ negative feelings, saying, “Black History Month feels like a forced, condescending reparation to make Americans remember the contributions of previous black Americans. It shouldn’t be designated to one month of the year, and should instead be given fair attention year-round.”

This issue isn’t unique to African-Americans. Between Women’s Month, Hispanic Heritage Month, and more, I have had to seek out an education that is inclusive to idols that aren’t white men. Diversity isn’t in the curriculum; it’s an elective. Past elementary school, Black History Month is hardly acknowledged. In a truly equal America, we would not need to segregate black history to one month; it would be an American way of life. Hopefully, that will be a reality one day. Unfortunately, that day is not today.

Don’t sit around bragging about what you would have done in the past, surrounded by people who were “products of their time.” Today is history in the making. When people look back on us, what will you be remembered for?

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