Black History Month 2022: Beyond Symbolism

Black History Month doesn’t exist in a vacuum. A year ago this time, we found ourselves wrapped up in the aftermath of two historic moments illustrating the competing visions for the future of our country. Many of us were recognizing the results of the historic 2020 general election, which included a number of Black firsts, while also sounding the alarm that the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol was not a culmination, but rather a sign of things to come.

Fast forward to 2022 and all the celebrations and literal dancing in the street because of the historic firsts are a distant memory. The symbolism of institutions’ Black Lives Matter statements is clashing with the reality of the repeal of voting rights and inaction on police reform, often spearheaded by those who proclaim to have been touched by the racial justice movement of 2020 the most. Organized mobs are terrorizing school boards throughout the state and the country to dismantle the very study of Black history and the histories of other marginalized groups, all under the guise of protecting white children.

Even a few years ago, some of these scenes would have seemed laughable, the concoctions of satire. Now these attacks on our understanding of race specifically and our intelligence in general, which are often rooted in fundamental anti-Blackness, are gaining steam and we’re at yet another critical moment. Will we as a society follow through with fighting anti-Blackness at the highest, systemic levels or will we again decide we’re simply satisfied with symbolism? As we recognize and celebrate Black History Month 2022, we have a special obligation not to succumb to the fatigue that curiously tends to arise whenever anti-Blackness is the battle.

Originally, “Negro History Week,” Black History Month was conceptualized by Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History in 1926. It became a month-long celebration, recognized in February, in 1976. While we celebrate and study Black history all year long, Black History Month provides a special opportunity to put Black achievements and contributions to the fabric of the U.S. in the spotlight. In addition to celebrating these accomplishments, this month is also an opportunity to organize and build on these achievements.

For our campus community at the University of Oregon, Black History Month is also an opportunity to specifically highlight and discuss the historical contributions of Black people at the UO, in the Eugene community and throughout Oregon. Furthermore, it’s a time for us to assess the work we still have to do and explore how we can make the UO a more equitable and inclusive campus for Black students, staff and faculty.

A great example of this is the Strides for Social Justice app that debuted last year and takes users on a tour of Black history makers, monuments and significant locations throughout Eugene and Lane County. From UO’s first Black employee (among many other distinctions) Wiley Griffon, to foundational families like the Mims and Reynolds, to the Black Student Task Force who have done significant work to transform the campus in the last several years, the app allows users to explore a wide breadth of local Black history. Created with heavy guidance from local Black-led organizations and thought leaders, it’s hopefully a sign of more innovative projects engaging with Black history and culture to come.

To that end, Black History Month 2022 at the UO features a wide variety of events and activities engaging the myriad of identities and interests represented in our campus’s Black community. These events include Soul2Soul, an annual networking event at the Lylle Reynolds Parker Black Cultural center, multiple discussions exploring cultural trauma, a pop-up Black Excellence exhibit, a screening focused on Black American Sign Language, screening of “Public Plea” and discussion around criminal justice reform in regards to Measure 11, and much more.

We hope you can join us and the entire UO campus community in celebrating Black History Month 2022!