“This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning-‘My country tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing; land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.’ And if America is to be a great nation, this must be true.”
-Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Excerpt from “I have a dream,” 1963
As we celebrate Black History Month 2022, it is time to reflect on what has to be done so that all people have life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. When we celebrate Black History Month, people should be reminded that Black History is American History and should be celebrated 365 days a year.
We live in a society where the playing field is not level, and Black people continue to fight for equality. It’s been said, ‘the only person who likes change is a wet baby,’ but now is the time. So many before us have sacrificed so much for change.
Systemic racism must be addressed in our society, requiring change at the highest levels. As a society, we must stop looking at separate incidents as racist, and address the bigger picture.
Author Mary-Frances Winters' book “Black Fatique: How Racism Erodes the Mind, Body, and Spirit” describes the enduring negative impact of systemic racism on health, economic, workplace, education, and other social outcomes for Black people. She offers strategies Black people can use to protect themselves against Black fatigue and discusses how non-Black people can begin to actively dismantle the racist systems that cause these negative impacts.
With the recent announcement of Justice Stephen Breyer’s retirement, change is coming within the ranks of the Supreme Court. Current events include a potential Black woman as the next Supreme Court Judge, which would be a historic appointment by President Joe Biden.
Potential Supreme Court Judge nominees include:
- Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, 51
- California Supreme Court Justice Leondra R. Kruger, 45
- S. District Judge Julianna Michelle Childs, 55
- Judge Candace Rae Jackson-Akiwumi, 43
- Judge Eunice Cheryl Lee, 52
Currently, there is only one Black Supreme Court Judge, Clarence Thomas. Appointing a Black female provides another layer of representation. The first Black Supreme Court Judge, Thurgood Marshall made a major impact as a practicing Attorney by arguing 32 cases (more than anyone else in history) before the Supreme Court and winning 29 of them.
Some of Marshall’s notable cases included:
- Chambers v. Florida (1940): Marshall successfully defended four convicted Black men who were coerced by police into confessing to murder.
- Smith v. Allwright (1944): In this decision, the Supreme Court overturned a Texas state law that authorized the use of whites-only primary elections in certain Southern states.
- Shelley v. Kraemer (1948): The Supreme Court struck down the legality of racially restrictive housing covenants.
- Sweatt v. Painter (1950): This case challenged the “separate but equal” doctrine of racial segregation that was put in place in the Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) case and set the stage for future legislation. The court sided with Heman Marion Sweatt, a Black man who was denied admission to the University of Texas School of Law due to his race even though he had the option of “separate but equal” facilities.
- Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954): This landmark case was considered Marshall’s greatest victory as a civil-rights lawyer. A group of Black parents whose children were required to attend segregated schools filed a class-action lawsuit. The Supreme Court unanimously ruled that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”
Appointing Supreme Court Judges is a major step to make a change, but even everyday citizens can make a change by doing it one encounter at a time. We can educate ourselves to manage big and small issues. Managing how we address microaggressions, stereotypes, bias and all of the “isms” in our society can be effective by everyone within communities. One example would be to understand the dynamics of a “call-in culture instead of a “call-out culture.”
Historically, people who have committed racist acts have been called out as racist, but a different approach is being modeled by activist and scholar Loretta J. Ross. In her recent Don’t call people out – call them in TED Talks, she notes that we live in a “call-out culture,” which is the public shaming and blaming, on social media and in real life, of people who may have done wrong and are being held accountable. Ross says It is time to start a “call-in culture” and provide strategies that help challenge wrongdoing while creating space for growth, forgiveness, and a potential unexpected friend.
It's time for deliberate and intentional change by calling people in. Everyone should be heard and respected. Education is the key to change. At Elgin Community College, faculty and staff take a holistic approach to students, as evident during the current pandemic. Black History Month at ECC is a place where you are celebrated, educated, appreciated, and not just tolerated.
-Mae Hicks Jones, Ph.D., Adjunct Faculty, Sustainability, Business, and Career Technologies