Black History Month reflects on culture, heritage

By Lovette Ajayi

Where would the world be without black people? Well for starters, we would have to take 12 flights of stairs on a regular basis, and the streets would be ruled by nothing but chaos. A black man helped create the modern elevator and the traffic light, as well as numerous other everyday conveniences. The case and point is that African Americans have made some invaluable contributions to the world.

February is a month dedicated to the remembrance, honor and appreciation of African Americans. Black History Month (BHM) provides the opportunity for me, as well as other students of African descent, to reflect on our heritage and pay homage to all of those who came before us. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a great man, and Rosa Parks was a catalyst for positive change; their contributions to the world today cannot be measured. However, they are not the only significant black historical figures. We can take this opportunity to learn about other instrumental African Americans. It’s often said that it’s important to know where we came from, so we can know where we are going, and I totally agree.

Another issue that BHM has brought up for me is being a student of color on the Illinois campus. I often feel as much of the minority that the numbers say and can only find haven in such places as an Afro or a Sociology class, where I can discuss my thoughts on this feeling.

Growing up in an all-white neighborhood and going to racially diverse schools did not prepare me for the culture shock I received when I arrived in Champaign. I’ve always been around people who were as colorblind as can be expected in a racially controlled world. I’m used to being a minority number-wise, but I’ve experienced very little overt prejudice that moved me. However, on this campus, I’ve experienced some incidences that were pretty shocking to me and have come across people with the narrowest of minds. Reflecting on them now, they do make me angry, and I’m filled with questions such as, “Why is there such ignorance?”, “Why do some people not even know that February is Black History Month?”, or “Why am I considered articulate for a black person?” I realize now that instead of just asking questions, I can do something about it, both interpersonally and as an action.

BHM provides the opportunity to become more culturally aware, not only of ours, but others as well. It’s essential to find out more about other heritages apart from our own in order to become better individuals, and to further appreciate the richness of multiculturalism. Learning about black, as well as non-black backgrounds and history, is my way of broadening my mind and attempting to decrease my overall level of cultural ignorance. Doing this might inform me of why that person who has never encountered an African-American would think I’m articulate for someone “who is black.” It might allow me to see that ignorance is not always self-recognized, nor does it always come from a place of hate. Things like this make me realize that there’s a lot for me to learn about various backgrounds.

Understanding other perspectives is essential in becoming multiculturally aware. This can be done by asking historical questions about someone else’s background or visiting a cultural house other than your group’s. Another way of gaining some knowledge is by doing simple things such as listening to another genre of music than you would normally do or reading some books by an author not of your heritage, about people not of your culture. You can even take one more cultural class than you are required to take and make it a point to learn as much as possible.

February can be the catalyst, not the end of attempting to diversify one’s knowledge about things outside of our own comfort level. Stay Positive!