Temple students, professors discuss Black History Month narratives

Some students and professors think one month can’t sum up Black history.

For Sharon Washington, there is more to African-American history than Martin Luther King Jr.

Washington, a public health professor, will show her classes a series of documentaries that relate to African-American history on Feb. 23 and March 2 in Ritter Hall’s Walk Auditorium. Such documentaries will include “The Human Zoo,” a TV mini-series that uncovers psychological dynamics between people who do not know they are being filmed, and “13th,” a film that illustrates the racial inequality of mass incarceration in the U.S.

“I hope to generate the start of a conversation and reflection on a group of historically marginalized people,” Washington said.

In recognition of Black History Month, many organizations on Main Campus are hosting events to celebrate African-American history and culture.

Other organizations on Main Campus are also hoping to use Black History Month to spark a conversation about African-American history.

Temple Black Law Student Association’s graduate chapter, is hosting an event on Wednesday from 5:30-7:30 p.m. in Moot Court Room in Klein Hall. The event, called “BLSA: Minority Report II, will invite faculty and the student body to talk about law school, careers and politics.

The Black & Brown Coalition invited Regina Jennings, a former member of the Black Panther Party, to discuss her experience with students on Feb. 13 in Morgan Hall, while the Black Student Union has posted daily facts about Black History Month on Twitter.

“These events are important,” said Reginald Streater, president of BSLA and a second-year law student. “But they should be used, along with Black History Month, to start a year-long, more reflective conversation about Black history.”

Washington said Black history is so long and complex that it couldn’t possibly be understood in one month, or even one year. Black History Month can make it easier for people to address a long history of discrimination, Washington said, but oftentimes people would rather recognize Black history through the achievements of prominent figures like Martin Luther King Jr.

“We dehumanize these figures, and Black History Month is now viewed as a ceremony rather than a way of life,” Streater said. “If we don’t view them as people, how could we relate to our own history?”

Streater believes that every aspect of African-American history should be taught more in depth, from slavery to segregation and the current battle for equal rights.

“African-American history should be taught in terms of the good, the bad and the ugly, not just in terms of the good that prominent figures have done,” Streater said. “It would be ideal if African-American history was viewed in the same light as the American Civil War.”

Washington said after she shows the documentaries to her classes, she hopes to start a discussion about how African Americans felt during times of segregation and relate that to how African Americans deal with discrimination today.

“We need to make Black history relatable to the current population so that we can have a different conversation about that history,” Washington said.

Streater added that part of the month’s discussion should include modern African-American community residents who fight for equal rights, including Black-affiliated organizations on Main Campus.

“There are people making a difference at the grassroots level and they are not always recognized,” Streater said. “Black History Month should also be used as a vehicle to address the work they are doing.”

Despite his critiques of the Black History Month narrative, Streater said that it is a month rooted in good intention and that it’s a good start toward a deeper reflection of African-American history.

But it’s only the start of what must be a longer conversation, Washington said.

“The Black community has a rich and important history,” Washington said. “One that we should be proud of.”

Patrick Bilow can be reached at patrick.bilow@temple.edu.

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