Black lives should be valued far beyond February

Illustration by Marisa Stratton

Tagwa Shammet, Opinions Editor

It’s our favorite — and shortest — month of the year. Black History Month is upon us. White people, grab your wallets; this past year needs a hefty payment for reparations. 

Last year was a significant one for Black America. Our community changed the nation in unimaginable ways — that is, unimaginable to the rest of the world, but a normal occurrence for us. 

The Black community has been revamping this nation since we arrived, constantly putting our own lives and safety on the line to show the country and the world that we are not the second-class citizens America has made us out to be. We are Americans, just like Jim and Sue down the street. 

We fought for our freedom. And won. Yet, every day the community asks itself, “Are we truly free?” 

And every day, this nation says, “Not really.”

The undignified murders of our people this past summer was no new show. Rayshard Brooks was not the first nor the last Black man to die while sleeping in his car. Daniel Prude was not the first nor the last Black man to die while having a mental health episode. Breonna Taylor was not the first nor the last Black woman to die while in the comfort of her own home. George Floyd was not the first nor the last Black man to die with a knee on his neck.

It truly infuriates me writing such things. I see how innocent and common these people were, how they could’ve been someone I knew. They could’ve been me. 

I wonder to myself, ‘How is it that these individuals, who were practicing normal activities of life, die while doing so?  What did those people do to deserve this sort of punishment?’ 

Then, I realize these people didn’t die while doing all those miniscule acts.

They died while being Black.

Living in America today, being Black feels like a disease that takes so many lives. Our color is out of our control. Yet, the initiative to murder us for it is so great. 

We’ve lost so many beautiful souls in our community this past year. The deaths of Kobe and Gianna Bryant marked painful losses in their family, and our community resonated with the pain. The anniversary of their deaths in January sent a sadness that I had forgotten about.

I remember when Chadwick Boseman passed away. My 8-year-old brother called and said, “Black Panther died.” It was an honor to have seen such a wonderful soul play a revolutionary character. Our community lost a real life superhero. 

That’s what being Black is. We feel each other’s pain. When one of us is lost, we all endure the trauma and shock. Researchers call this “linked fate.”

An idea originally developed by University of Chicago’s professor Michael Dawson in 1994, linked fate is the belief that the actions of one Black person affects the realities of the entire community.

When the Black community lost such gems this year, we were reminded of all of the lives we have lost throughout this nation’s history. The distaste of the Black body is as American as apple pie.

So, let me propose a challenge to all of my non-Black readers. Start realizing that not everything is about you.

There is a key difference between empathy and sympathy. You can never live the Black experience, so I can never expect empathy from you. However, you can understand the Black experience through education and questioning, therefore providing the community your sympathy.

When Black people are offended by something, it is not up to you to decide whether or not the situation was “deep.” 

If I tell you that the N-word offends me, don’t ever tell me it’s just a word. Until the generational trauma and oppression the word carries is hurled at you, do not dismiss my feelings.

Here at VCU, we have a bit of a problem with non-Black people consistently downplaying Black feelings. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve hopped on Twitter this past semester and seen non-Black people of color putting braids into their heads and calling it appreciation. When called out by Black women, many of these appropriators defended themselves and expelled the thoughts and opinions of Black women.

Being Black is not easy. It’s not a trend. It is tiresome and exhausting. Every day, I have to work twice as hard as my counterparts to dispel stereotypes and stigmas that were placed against me before I was even born.

We are a strong community. But we fall and we hurt just as much as everyone else. We just get back up quicker than anyone else.

2020 was no different from the past years for Black people. We protested, we elected, and we changed. The only difference is, the rest of the world has started to notice.

2021 will be no different. Black History Month might have commenced, but Black excellence does not stop once this month is over — and neither should its recognition.


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