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.
To contact Siali Siaosi, email firstname.lastname@example.org.