As February draws to a close and with it Black History Month, I want to thank the many Antiochians across our campuses and programs who have been doing the work of providing resources to me and others or doing their own research and reflection. I especially want to acknowledge and thank the many participants and contributors in the Messy Conversation Series and the Antiracism Task Force, all of whom have worked to advance our understanding of Black History, especially as it relates to our country’s shameful, over-four-hundred-year history of enslavement, subjugation, and pervasive systemic racism.
The focus of my reading has been on the struggle for voting rights and the current efforts by some to turn back the clock on those bedrock rights. I’m currently reading the book, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, by Isabel Wilkerson. In it she describes the stratification of people in American society as just that, a caste system, and she shows how caste defines privilege, power, occupational opportunity, wealth, social standing and upward mobility. These notions of white privilege, white supremacy, and white-centeredness continue to deeply infect our discourse and politics. And they continue to threaten our democracy.
The evidence of this could not have been more apparent in the months leading up to the Presidential election and the bloody aftermath leading up to the inauguration. The sixty-some lawsuits challenging the election results were largely focused on delegitimizing minority votes, especially mail-in ballots from minority communities, and asking that millions of legally cast ballots simply be tossed out and not counted. While the courts thankfully struck down each of those challenges, make no mistake: this assault on democracy and minority voting rights continues. There are now scores of bills pending in state houses across the country seeking to restrict voting rights in ways that disparately impact Black voters and other people of color. The clear motive is to do whatever they can to preserve the white-centeredness of the American caste system.
When historian Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History first conceived of an annual Black History celebration in 1926, it was one week, then known as Negro History Week. Over the intervening ninety-four years, the observance has grown from a week into a month. It perhaps doesn’t need to be said, but I’ll emphasize it anyway: our study of Black history should not be limited to the month of February. Black history is American history, and it’s important that throughout the year—and throughout life—we continue to work on understanding the depths of grievous oppression visited on all people of color, its impact on our society both past and present, and the pivotal role voting has had on effecting change.
So, thanks again to all who participated in this month of study and reflection, and please keep engaging with these important reading lists and vital conversations.