Black History Month recognizes equality

February is Black History Month and political science Professor Sharon Vaughan said it’s important to consider the reasons why it’s celebrated in the first place.

“I have mixed feelings about [Black History Month],” Vaughan said. “Any time we start compartmentalizing things like that, it loses some meaning.”

Vaughan said before teaching at OCCC, she taught at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Ga. — an all-male, historically black private college that Martin Luther King Jr., attended.

She said Black History Month is important as it symbolizes the progression of African-American people, but she said she’s also worried Black History Month is recognized for the wrong reasons.

“On one hand, [Black History Month] is educational,” she said. “But on the other hand, I’m afraid these individuals and the things we focus on are treated so superficially … they are reduced to caricatures of who they really are.

“I find that with Dr. King and Rosa Parks, they have been turned into these caricatures … we roll them out [for Black History Month], and then we roll them back in.”

Vaughan said most Americans remember King for his “I Have a Dream Speech” and Parks for her historical refusal to give up her bus seat at the demand of a white man, but nothing more.

“Very few people know that Dr. King was one of the very first Americans to protest the Vietnam War … [and] he was one of the first Americans to highlight poverty,” Vaughan said. “He was consistent throughout his career in his commitment to non-violence.”

Vaughan said society has made Parks a false archetype by deeming her a “tired old seamstress” who didn’t want to get up on the day she was asked to move.

“She had a strong sense of justice,” Vaughan said. “She was a committed activist her entire life … she was tired of feeling inferior.”

Vaughan said the social struggles for the African-American population still occur today.

America has come a long way since desegregation, she said, but there’s still more progress to be made.

“In 2014, race matters. Blacks still earn a lot less, the education levels for young African-American men are horrific for college — there’s just a long way to go demographically.

“People don’t want to hear it.”

Vaughan said this Black History Month, OCCC students should not just consider how far African-American people have come but also remember that there is still work to do.

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