It is the beginning of March, and with it the end of February.

As we wrap up our observance of Black History Month and Valentine’s day, we reflect on the role of Black History, and of love, in our lives. The reason Black History Month exists, and the reason we must acknowledge racism, is not (as some people may believe) with the intent to instill guilt and shame. It is not with the purpose of causing strife and contention, contentious and uncomfortable issue though it may be. No it is for exactly the opposite reason–love. 

Valarie Kaur writes, “Revolutionary love is the call of our times. Revolutionary love is when we are brave enough to see no stranger, to look at anyone and think, you are a part of me that I do not yet know.” When we tell Black stories, we come to understand one another, and ourselves.  When we know American Black history, we come to understand that part of our collective identity that is shaped by that historic context. Ultimately, we come to know and understand why our communities, cities, and country are splintered along racial lines, something we all sense, but may be too scared to acknowledge. 

Racism is complex and contentious, many of us are afraid to even broach the subject. It can often feel like opening a can of worms, and the fear of making a mistake can be paralyzing. In the “post racial” landscape of today, myths of colorblindness offer convenient ways to ignore the issue of race. Ultimately, it often feels easier and safer to avoid the topic altogether. Instead of calling attention to racism, we too often wish it would just go away. But whether we choose to talk about it or not, racism is already in the building. In fact, many times racism IS the building.  And, the more we avoid it, the more entrenched it becomes. Shirley Chrisholm writes in Unbought and Unbossed, “Racism is so universal in this country, so widespread, and deep-seated, that it is invisible because it is so normal.” When we put on blinders and stop engaging critically with our present day reality, when we choose to ignore the experiences of Black people, and when we rewrite our history to be more comfortable, we perpetuate and invisibilize violence. This is why truly seeing each other is so critical.

Love is the driving factor in fighting against inequity, and there is no better time than Valentine’s day to celebrate the role of love in our lives. Practicing loving relationships goes so much further than just romantic love–we hold the power to practice love in each of our connections with another, and in our relationship with ourselves. Indeed, as we advocate for systems that respect the dignity of all life, may we remember that love for and service to others is at the heart of these efforts. As  bell hooks wrote, “The moment we choose to love we begin to move against domination, against oppression. The moment we choose to love we begin to move towards freedom, to act in ways that liberate ourselves and others. That action is the testimony of love as the practice of freedom.” When we choose love, we can sit with the discomfort of acknowledging racism. When we humanize the other, we become reunited with our own humanity. When we choose to see and understand this uncomfortable reality, we are equipped to change it. Martin Luther King Jr. writes in his  1963 Letter From a Birmingham Jail, “I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one affects all indirectly.”

We must believe that there exists a future where the inherent dignity and value of all life is honored and respected. We must continue dreaming. Most of all, we must not turn a (color)blind eye to ongoing inequity and injustice. 

Black History is more than just a month, a collection of stories to be reviewed each February and put back on the dusty shelf come March. Black history is our past and present, and is happening right now all around us. Black history is a part of who we all are; it is part of our social fabric.  Black experiences deserve to be celebrated and honored without edits or whitewashing, including the contributions of African Americans who excelled under the most contentious of environments. We must acknowledge both how far we have come and how far we still have to go. 

The opposite of love is not hate, but fear. So, as we move forward into the future, may we remember that we create history every day. May we remember that Black history is American history. May we practice the art of loving every day in our communities. Most of all, may we move forward with brave, liberatory love.