by Rahshaana Green

To be honest, I get a weird feeling in the pit of my stomach as February approaches every year. I start to brace myself in preparation for this year’s version of performative advertising and antics I’ll have to endure from nearly every business, organization, and community I will come into contact with. It always leaves me feeling cringey that we even need a month to highlight the historical accomplishments of a people who quite literally built the country we inhabit.

The past few years have felt like a rollercoaster as a Black person in America: from the centering of police violence towards Black bodies after George Floyd’s murder, to the centering/investing in diversity, equity, and inclusion across many industries, to the challenge of teaching the full story of our country’s (and others’) history, to the banning of books, to the ending of affirmative action in higher education—and the subsequent floundering of industries in trying to figure out what’s “in” to bring a pop culture lens of equity and inclusivity amongst their spaces. It leaves my head spinning and it feels unsettling. It makes me wonder what it’s going to take for Black people to safely access belonging and inclusion.

In a recent lecture I discussed the varied ways in which anti-Black violence presents itself (outside of police incidents which are more centered in recent discussion). The denial of equity in access to things like housing, education, wellness, jobs and loans/funding were at the top of the list. How do people feel safely connected to a society that creates and maintains hurdles for them to obtain necessities for thriving? It’s difficult to buy into the notion of a meritocracy that continues to hold onto systems and processes that provide access to those most privileged and gaslights others by blaming their failure to gain access on their need to work harder. The gaslighting, the microaggressions and extra work required to justify being included is now recognized as a contributor to the disproportionate negative healthcare outcomes in the Black community.

While an annual, month-long focus on Black History won’t solve these systemic issues, it does something else important: it reinforces a connection to lineage, history, pride and joy. Remembering and celebrating those that came before us and those who paved the way for our current experiences is fortifying. Learning the full history of how the systems we currently exist in came to be provides us with information that will help us find our way to more equitable ways of being in community. Making space to celebrate even amidst harm and inequity is a practice that keeps us connected to pride, joy and other positive emotions that denies systemic harm the ability to steal our peace. These things fortify us for navigating what will come while working towards change, but it also keeps us connected to the beauty of what we’re fighting for: a place where we can all exist and belong together.

May our contemplative practice bring us ever closer to realizing that vision.