Emily Seppelt – Opinion Columnist
Here at Gustavus and across the country, this week marked the second week of Black History Month. Running throughout the entire month of February, PASO will be putting on a variety of events to celebrate black history and educate the Gustavus campus at large.
First founded as just a week by historian Carter G. Woodson, Black History has been recognized by every U.S President since 1976. In the 1960s, an entire month grew more popular on college campuses across the country. Every year, a theme is chosen to focus on for the month. The theme nationally for 2021 is “Black Family: Representation, Identity and Diversity.”
The importance of this month and recognition of black history is clearer and more important than ever, and it is absolutely vital to Gustavus’s anti-racist initiatives currently in motion. Since the very start of our country, and therefore later the founding of our campus, the stories told (or not told) about black history were twisted and skewed to benefit one narrative that has kept white supremacy in an ever present and dangerous position of power and domination.
Although Black Americans constitute a significant portion of our nation’s population, the extent of black history taught in schools stops at very limited understandings of the slavery and later an idealized version of the civil rights movement. Learning and understanding more black history at a deeper than surface level is one step that is necessary if we intend to dismantle white supremacy and support anti-racist goals on campus.
This means not limiting ourselves to just February to go out of our way to search out black history resources as well as taking the time to teach others. Just like we can’t leave behind our anti-racist work in May and June, we can’t leave our black history lessons in February. This month is a great time to find resources about less covered stories of Black Americans and incorporate them into your everyday life and understanding and bring them with you into all the spaces that you inhabit.
Here at Gustavus, we have a unique opportunity to do this as members of a college community. There are countless possibilities and opportunities to both teach black history in the classroom as faculty and bring black stories and history with us to our classes as students. No matter your department or focus, there is relevant black history to be taught and learned.
In fact, bringing black history into subjects that you may not think it is relevant, such as STEM classes, may be even more important than in traditionally social justice focused departments. One relevant example can be found in the current push to rename Linnaeus Arboretum. For decades, the name of the Arb went unchecked out of simple ignorance about the actions of Linnaeus and his whitewashed history. With better black and anti-racist history education, this issue could have been solved much quicker (not that there seems to be a great rush by the administration for the name to be changed).
“ This month is a great time to find resources about less covered stories of Black Americans and incorporate them into your everyday life and understanding and bring them with you into all the spaces that you inhabit. ”
Teaching and learning black history also often means disentangling ourselves from the version of American history that many of us were taught in our K-12 education, as well (at times) here at Gustavus. Thousands of black poets, doctors, activists, scientists, and other historic figures were erased, forgotten, and pushed to the wayside in the name of the story that White Americans tell themselves about the history of our country. Bringing to light these historic events and figures can help us to piece together the country’s true history as well as give them the recognition that they deserve.
Anti-racist work is a lifelong pursuit and challenge, and Black History Month is a great way to center black lives and black voices in our everyday life and work. I encourage everyone to participate in PASO’s Black History Month events this month alongside any other Black History events occurring this month on and off campus and bring those lessons and experiences with them into the rest of 2021. Don’t be afraid of seeking out your own resources and black history texts, media, and other resources you may be personally interested in. Bring up Black history in class and any organizations that you may be a part of.