Black History Month ended just ten days ago, and spring break is already upon us, but as I look back on the first half of this semester, I am not satisfied to rush forward without looking back and appreciating the richness of this month's Black History Month at the University of Vermont. Between film screenings, lectures and the Fashion Show, it was a month full of learning, solidarity building and empowerment, but the story is more complex than that. When the Vice President of the United States of America commemorates Black History Month with a Twitter shoutout to Abraham Lincoln, stories that glorify the successes and smooth over the rest are insufficient.
We live in an era of alternative facts, where politicians shape media to support their claims and it is increasingly difficult to know what the truth is. But as anyone with even the slightest exposure to Black History can well attest, lies, manipulation and power abuse are by no means an unfamiliar struggle for people of African descent in the United States. Indeed, if the films we watched and the amazing lectures we had the privilege to host at the University of Vermont this month are anything to go by, the story of Black people in this country is shaped by oppression, exploitation, and brilliant resilience; a resilience that deserves more recognition than a handful of events during the shortest month of the year. All the same, BSU's film screenings, UPB's Screening and panel discussion of Do Not Resist, and Keeanga Yamahtta-Taylor's talk #Black Lives Matter in the Trump Era offered myriad insights into the current political climate and the need to organize.
Every general body meeting last month was transformed into a film screening, beginning with Hidden Colors 2 on February 7th. This film documented the history of Black people all over the world and exposed ways in which spiritual manipulation, medical genocide, the prison industrial complex, and economic exploitation are ongoing wars against Black people. The film also detailed the connections between Black people and world renowned inventions, artwork and even religious figures such as Buddha and Jesus, highlighting examples of fraud that have obscured the true prominence of people of African descent in shaping world history in positive ways. Additionally, the film complicated stories of people such as Gandhi who are revered and yet who were actually very racist towards Black people. The BSU members and enthusiastic visitors who stuck it through to the end of this two and a half hour film had a rich discussion afterwards, exploring the various conditions that had kept many of us from knowing anything about the historical events presented in the film and ruminating about possibilities for the future.
Hidden Colors 3, which we watched the following week, further explores the foundations of white supremacy and how the construction of whiteness enabled (and continues to enable) white theft of land, ideas, wealth and social capital from people of color and Black people in particular. For example, the film explained the origins of hockey, a sport dating back to ancient Kement (Egypt) and brought to the Americas by the Colored Hockey League in the Maritimes of Nova Scotia, Canada. Divulging the existence of contemporary lynchings, systematic organ trafficking, and many other horrors of modern day white supremacy, this film further pushed the small crew of viewers to recognize the hidden stories of modern and historical genocide and generated rich discussion.
Unfortunately, I wasn't able to see Black Power Mixtape, because there was a Black Lives Matter Vermont emergency meeting that evening, but I hear it was a great film and discussion. The BLM VT meeting was also productive, resulting in a plan to research the effect of suspensions on student mental health, alternative disciplinary processes and confront the Burlington School Board about the disproportionate mistreatment and suspension faced by Black students at Burlington High School. Check out February's Newsletter for more updates about projects that Black Lives Matter Vermont is involved with, come to this Monday's Action meeting at 7PM at the Integrated Arts Academy (6 Archibald Street), or drop by the BLM Store at 325 Main St. in Winooski for some coffee and donuts, Black Lives Matter Apparel, local artwork and good conversation.
The month's film screenings concluded with Soundtrack to a Revolution, a beautiful and relatively uplifting film about the role of song in the Civil Rights Movement. The film rounded out the month of film screenings beautifully, but with only a handful of viewers, it would be inaccurate to say that the critical stories these films shared were widely heard. That being said, Do Not Resist, a film about the militarization of the police that UPB put on, was very well attended. Furthermore, the panel discussion that followed, moderated by Professor Emily Bernard and consisting of Craig Atkinson (Director of Do Not Resist), Brandon del Pozo (Burlington Police Chief), and Ebony Nyoni (President of Black Lives Matter Vermont), was intense, relevant and meaningful, for the panelists actively engaged the issue of racism in Vermont law enforcement.
Just before Black Orgasm: The Fashion Show, UVM had the great honor of hosting Keeanga-YamahttaTaylor for a talk entitled #Black Lives Matter in the Trump Era. UVM Women of Color Coalition's very own Angelica Hope-Crespo introduced Professor Taylor, and her talk was nothing short of brilliant. The clarity with which she addressed the underlying historical impetus for the current political climate and outlined the case for building a wide reaching socialist revolution is beyond my ability to capture, but luckily, her talk was recorded, so you can listen to it here!
In short, February was a month full of opportunities for UVM students to learn about one of the most marginalized racial groups on our campus. However, the success of Black History Month 2017 will not be defined by the photos or the posts or the events that were hosted during the month of February, but by the actions that are carried out as a result of the learning that took place. Whether that action be joining Black Lives Matter Vermont, showing up to more events that support Black liberation, educating friends and family about what you have learned, or focusing your academic work on critical racial issues whenever possible, there are a myriad of ways in which UVM students can be engaged in making change.
For white people like myself, it can be easy to feel like expressing support and learning is sufficient, but black liberation requires nothing short of a revolution. As Ta-Nehisi Coates eloquently articulates in his essay, The Case for Reparations, being a part of this revolution means that white people need to make substantial contributions of wealth, time and energy towards healing the wounds our people have inflicted on people of color, especially African Americans. From joining The Safety Pin Box network or making an effort to engage racist relatives in critical dialogue, there are countless ways in which white people can be effective accomplices in the struggle against racism; just as the celebration of Black History can't be constrained to the month of February, white engagement in anti-racism must be sustained, consistent and persistent even when we make mistakes and hurt the people we love. Overcoming white fragility is not only possible, but empowering. In the end, we all have a lot to gain from manifesting the true breadth and depth of our humanity regardless of color, gender, sexual orientation, ability, religion or any of the other identities that have been used to divide, exploit and oppress.