As Black History month progresses, and we take a moment to honor and celebrate our tremendous history and the great strides we have made in the last fifty or so years, I cannot help but think about the ways in which our story has been one of both triumph and disappointment.
It has been more than two months since the news came out that Darren Wilson, the White officer who gunned down eighteen-year-old Michael Brown on August 9, 2014, would not be indicted for Brown’s death. In the aftermath, protests both at Princeton and other college campuses, as well as major United States cities, broke out. At these protests, many people, myself included, shouted, reiterated, and cried that yes, Black lives do in fact matter. I am only a freshman, so I have only heard, and not actually been privy to, the insidious culture of apathy that seemed to define Princeton before Brown’s tragic death, but I could not help but be encouraged by Princeton’s reaction to the verdict and the dialogue it helped initiate between the students and administration about diversity on campus—more specifically making this campus a safer space for Black students and other students of color.
All the same, as the second semester picks up speed and I, like many others in the Princeton community become consumed by schoolwork and our lives, I am unsure exactly how to actively keep this issue relevant …when it is so easy to forget. This is a fear I have not only for myself but also for the Princeton community and society at large. I am afraid. I am afraid that people will stop thinking about Ferguson because it is easy to do so—because, to many, it is simply no longer news worthy of coverage. I struggle sometimes, not because I am not furious, upset, or disgusted, but because I am exhausted. The temptation to succumb to the worries of school, friends, and life is tempting, and I would be lying if I said that I have never wished that this did not have to be my burden to bear. However, if I have learned anything in the past few months, it is that it is not just my burden or the burden of other Black people to care about Black lives, but the burden of everyone who has a stake in American society.
That is why Black History is such an important month to me. It is not only a time for celebration, but also time for reflection—a time to look to the past to see that there can be better days. This February, President Obama will undoubtedly get touted as a prominent symbol for just how much things have changed. We will probably celebrate the astounding commercial success of celebrities like Beyoncé and praise the worldwide appeal of Oprah Winfrey’s brand. We will also remember Civil Rights figures who came before our time and who fought for many of the equalities we are now reaping. All of these success stories contribute to our rich history. However, I am understanding more and more that the fight for Civil Rights—that is the right to exist unapologetically—is not a battle that was fought and won, but one that continues to be fought today, one day, one protest, one life at a time. As Black History Month marches on, I hope it serves as a reminder of the ways we still have to go as a nation.