Many college students know nearly nothing about Black history.
In fact, suffice it to say that everything most of us know about African Americans rarely extends beyond the colorblind, superficial narrative spewed at us between fourth and sixth grade — Dr. King, Rosa Parks, slavery, I’m sure you are familiar.
But Black history is American history, and the history of the Negro is far more complex than many of us were taught to believe.
Not to say more or less significant than others, but rather unique and inspiring.
It is one of assiduous suffering, at times seeming anything but irreversible — yet, in these times of dire hopelessness we have leaned on our resilient tradition to reinvigorate our vision for a more equitable future.
Deeply entrenched in this tradition is a provocative past that we are rarely forced to confront in its truest form.
The Black radical tradition is one of militancy but also nonviolence — love but also rage.
It calls us to honor our ancestors and protect generations to come by rejecting the status quo and resisting capitalism, imperialism, patriarchy, classism and all other forms of oppression. It, too, explains our gift to the world of prophetic witness, or
our ability to courageously and creatively vocalize the suffering of the people.
Rarely are we taught these radical truths; instead we have learned that nonviolence is the answer regardless of context.
The media, educational curriculums and even our own university have made attempts to sanitize or eradicate our history, but it has tirelessly endured.
Black History Month is a time to honor our heroes, many of whom are the great intellectual thinkers of our time, but we must also honor the many nameless revolutionaries, particularly women, whose sacrifices are the reason we may live with such dignity today.
Among these towering figures are Ida B. Wells, Ella Baker, Audre Lorde, W.E.B. DuBois, Huey Newton and Malcolm X, each of them sharing an incendiary passion for justice — unfortunately, for many, at the expense of their lives.
They also shared an unconditional love for the people. They were aware of the grave dangers of their fight and that they may not live to witness the seeds of revolution sown in their lifetime, but they did not fear this.
I do not fear this either, nor do I wish it upon myself. In this month, I am reminded of the great African proverb “I am We.”
I am reminded that my ancestors sacrificed their lives so that I might dream, so I can obtain an education and continue the fight to liberate all oppressed peoples.
These are the radical and timeless lessons that our deodorized educations have deprived us of.
The Black radical tradition empowers us to envision a prisonless society. Where rather than mass incarceration, we employ rehabilitation. Where our sisters and LGBTQ comrades mustn’t fight racial discrimination only to be later confronted with misogyny, patriarchy and homophobia. Where social equality isn’t an ideology but rather a reality.
One need not be an optimist to believe such a future is possible — we simply need to have a deeper understanding of the ideologies of the many Black prophetic figures of the past.
We must challenge one another to continually further our revolutionary thought and political maturity.
I believe in the next few years, people of color, women and the impoverished will be vulnerable to an assault by an emboldened presidential administration and powers that be, and only through intersectional resistance and revolutionary love might we
Our tradition teaches us that in the face of injustice, inaction is immoral. That to be apolitical is a privilege that the oppressed can ill afford. That justice is not given but must be fought for.
When I sought to educate myself on Black history outside the institution, I found that for the non-white, the American dream was truly an American nightmare.
Yet, somehow within that violent and oppressive nightmare, my people were able to triumph and construct one of the most loving and compassionate traditions the world has ever seen.