Undergraduate Academic Affairs

February 8, 2021

Reflections on Black History Month

Ed Taylor

Photo of Ed TaylorBlack History Month is our annual celebration of achievements by African Americans and a devoted time to recognize Black achievements in U.S. history. Known as African American History Month, the period grew out of “Negro History Week,” born of the idea of historian Carter G. Woodson and other notable African Americans. Since 1976, every U.S. president has designated the month of February as Black History Month. Canada and the United Kingdom also devote a month to celebrating Black history.

The “celebration” is often framed as a time to honor the achievements of individual Black Americans, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Ida B. Wells; now Barack and Michelle Obama and Kamala Harris are among the many iconic figures. Given our experience of 2020 and now 2021 and the magnitude of the challenges before us, recognizing individual achievements seems too narrow. Recognizing Black History Month in context calls us to, indeed, recognize individuals and to turn our view toward our nation, community and our campus. I do believe James Baldwin is right: “American history is longer, larger, more various, more beautiful and more terrible than anything anyone has ever said about it.” We have reason to celebrate, yet we need not conceal the challenges in our midst.

My experience as an African American man is not singular. I am proud of my country and at times aghast at what I see. I am a proud Husky, and yet I have moments when I do not quite feel I fit. I feel at home in my community and at my University and at times frustrated by the divisions in my community. My campus feels familiar and safe, then there are far too many moments I feel uncertain. I often feel the particular sensation that W.E.B. Du Bois described in “The Souls of Black Folk” (1903), the concept of double consciousness — defined as the struggle African Americans face to remain true to Black culture while at the same time conforming to the dominant white society. Du Bois writes, “It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness … One feels his two-ness, an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two un-reconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.” Double consciousness is no longer limited to the lives of African Americans, many of us have lived and grown weary of living a divided life which is why we persist in our search for purpose and meaning in our lives and work.

I love the UW. I love the work I do. I try to merge into the values of our community and our campus with care. I hope that I lead and learn with integrity. I will celebrate Black History Month and in so doing, feel restrained. I am daily grateful that I can celebrate this month with all of you. I invite you to read Lucille Clifton’s poem, “won’t you celebrate with me.” She begins with a call to action, “won’t you celebrate with me” and she gives the reasons, against all odds, to celebrate.

 

Editor’s note: This reflection was originally part of an email to UAA staff published on February 5, 2020.