February 6, 2024
BLACK PUBLIC MEDIA
By Leslie Fields-Cruz
As we dive into yet another Black History Month, a conversation has emerged that challenges the traditional approach to acknowledging the profound contributions of Black Americans to our shared history.
Recently, a friend shared a troubling tale from a community center in the Lower East Side of New York City. Contrary to the customary commemoration of Black History Month, the center has opted not to host an official celebration this February. Instead, they pledge to integrate Black history into their year-round programming. At first glance, this decision may appear commendable. After all, Black history is an integral part of the human experience, deserving recognition every day of the year. The question is, can we trust institutions — particularly those led by individuals who do not share our lived experiences — to ensure that our narratives, known and unknown, are authentically represented?
So far, what my friend is seeing at her center is disheartening. As we approach the end of the first week of Black History Month, she says there has been no acknowledgment of Black history on display. This lack of visibility raises her concerns about the sincerity of their intentions.
This anecdote reflects a broader trend in society. The backlash against diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives, and the erosion of affirmative action policies has left many organizations quick to pledge support for Black history, but hesitant to take tangible steps to honor it. The fear of repercussions from promoting anything related to Blackness stifles progress and perpetuates systemic inequalities.
The implications extend beyond individual institutions. The censorship of Black narratives in educational settings undermines efforts to foster inclusive learning environments. Public media, a vital resource for educators seeking to diversify their curricula, plays a pivotal role in amplifying Black voices. From documentaries about civil rights activists like Bayard Rustin to profiles of unsung heroes like Daisy Bates, public media has been instrumental in preserving and disseminating Black history.
Yet, if educators face obstacles in accessing these resources or fear reprisals for incorporating them into their lesson plans, the promise of year-round Black history education remains elusive. The consequences are dire, as future generations risk growing up ignorant of the rich tapestry of Black experiences and contributions.
Signs of Hope
Despite this bleak landscape, there are glimmers of hope:
- Educators like Mary Wood of South Carolina are finding innovative ways to navigate restrictive policies and prioritize Black history in their classrooms. Wood, an AP English teacher, continues to teach a lesson on race using Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book Between the World and Me, despite being reported by two of her students in 2023, repremanded by her school and derided by some parents and politicians.
- Public media continues to showcase a diverse array of film and audio programming during Black History Month, reaffirming its commitment to elevating marginalized voices. For starters, visit our Watch page, where you’ll find a collection of historical features and short content by and about Black Americans and people from across the African diaspora.
As individuals committed to justice and equity, we all must hold institutions accountable for their promises. We cannot afford to allow fear to dictate our actions or impede progress. By demanding that institutions uphold their commitments to diversity and inclusion, we can ensure Black history is celebrated not just in February but every day of the year. Together, let’s continue on this journey towards a more inclusive and equitable future.
Banner graphic from Canva
If you’re not already receiving the BPM monthly newsletter and Weekly Dispatch, fill out the “Stay Informed” box at the bottom righthand corner of this webpage to subscribe.
BPM is supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting with further funding from the MacArthur Foundation and the New York State Council on the Arts. BPM is the only nonprofit that offers training, funding and distribution for projects solely about the Black experience. We welcome foundations, corporations and individuals to help with our work. For more information about underwriting and contributions, contact Delynda Lindsey (email@example.com).