“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” ~ Martin Luther King Jr.
I often think of this quote when asking myself why I care so much about helping causes that seemingly don’t affect me. I have come to realize that the answer is because they do affect me. Every discriminatory act tells society that discrimination is okay and should be accepted as the norm. Whether you are the group being discriminating against or not, we cannot reinforce that this is okay by standing by and doing nothing.
February was Black History Month. I have seen a lot on the internet (though still less coverage than I would have expected) about how this has been celebrated. It was very inspiring to see pictures of young black children dressed up as their heroes: black activists, politicians, singers, writers, and athletes. However, I also observed a lot of conversation in the media about whether Black History Month should be ended or not. The familiar arguments of how we live in a post-racial society because we have a black president reminded me why we still need this celebration of black history. Barack Obama shows a great leap toward this goal, but the last six months in particular have been a brutal reminder of just how vastly racial stereotypes still dictate our actions.
At my high school, we participated in the Race Card Project, an activity to end the negativity surrounding the phrase “pulling the race card.” All students were asked to write six words on an index card that in some way reflected their racial identity or beliefs about race. Many of the students, especially those who were white, had a very hard time thinking of what to put on their card. As a white girl, I understand gender-based discrimination, but I will never be able to fully understand racial discrimination. The truth was, I really didn’t know what my racial identity was because it was something I had never had to think about before. I found myself thinking that it would be easier to distill my racial identity into words if I had been discriminated against. This exercise gave me a rude awakening: I associated one’s racial identity with the act of being treated unfairly.
Black History Month can change this. Throughout black history, there have been great struggles, and throughout these difficult times extraordinary people have risen as leaders. As our struggle with racism continues, new leaders will come forward from our generation and those following. Instead of seeing the stereotypical “black person,” a view that caused the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, we must see the Martin Luther King’s, the Rosa Parks’, the Maya Angelou’s, and the Jackie Robinson’s of this time. No matter what race you are, the fight for racial equality concerns us all, because the only way to overcome issues in this world is for all people to come together and fight one injustice at a time.