African American History Month is celebrated every February. It is always an important time to not only look back at how a courageous people made great strides towards freedom but also think about how to advance that struggle to new heights.
The election of Barack Obama, our first African American president, marks this year’s celebration as a new milestone in the upward progress of a people long oppressed.
As in the fight against slavery and Jim Crow, this was a victory for all people, of all races and nationalities. It showed how the fight against racism in general and the fight for African American equality in particular can move democracy forward for all.
But as Obama has said, the election victory is not the change we seek but the opportunity to fight for real change. And that applies to the systemic inequities African Americans, Latinos and others face because of race. The change we seek is to end racist inequities whether in health, housing, education or jobs, and to guarantee peace and economic and social justice for all. As Tommy Dennis, a former business manager of this newspaper and autoworker from Detroit, used to say, “There isn’t anything Black people want that white people don’t need.”
The hard economic times call for bold government intervention to remake our cities and rural
areas devastated by three decades of a right-wing racist, corporate offensive. They call for public ownership of banks to guarantee that they are run to benefit the public and to help cheated homeowners who are losing their homes or being evicted en masse.
This crisis must be met by government action on the scale of the New Deal and the Marshall Plan, with strong affirmative action provisions. For the 3 million to 4 million new jobs created if Obama’s recovery package passes, there need to be guarantees that the hardest-hit communities will benefit. In some African American and Latino communities jobless rates have been as high as 50 percent for years.
The nearly 2 million people who weathered the frigid temperatures to witness the inauguration of the first Black president on Jan. 20 showed that the mass movement for positive change continues.
Let this African American History Month help celebrate the accomplishments and advance the tremendous possibilities for change.