By Susan Merkel, MSW, LSW
A Brief History of Black History Month
Carter G. Woodson, a son of emancipated slaves, and the second African American to earn a Ph.D. at Harvard University first envisioned Black history week in the 1920s.
Woodson foresaw an event to educate students about African American history at Universities across the country. Woodson, and the advocates who continued this legacy after his death in 1950, selected February because it is the birth month of Frederick Douglas and Abraham Lincoln.
The event was formally recognized as a National event in 1969 and designated as a Federal event by President Gerald Ford in 1976.
When I think about 2021’s Black History Month, I find it both a historic and a horrifying time in American history. Black Americans have been able to vote for over 100 years. Although there has been partial movement with equality, the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and so many other African Americans is a reminder of the discrimination battle that continues.
Today it is understood that institutionalized racism and bias are prevalent in our justice system, in the merchandise being sold, and in our financial institutions. White privilege for many can be subconscious, creating a lasting effect on minority populations. There is a large portion of the population that lacks awareness of the power they hold.
White Privilege Is My Experience
As a white female, I will never be given the opportunity to experience what it is like to walk in the shoes of a person of color. For example, I have never been accused of shoplifting, never been racially profiled by police during a routine traffic stop, and never struggled with approval for a mortgage or car loan. The above seem to be frequent occurrences for many people of color.
As discussed previously, there are many stores that are tailored to stock products limited to the majority. Band-Aids are even the color of my skin and I rarely notice the aisles stocking an array of options for people of color. I had no problem finding pantyhose that matched the color of my skin to wear to church, and I easily got my first credit card while I was an unemployed freshman in college.
Start Fighting for Racial Justice
People of color have done nothing to earn the unfairness they regularly experience, just as I have done nothing to earn my privilege.
Last month EWC staff completed an excellent training series focused on white privilege and racism. As social workers, we are mandated to lifelong learning and cultural competency, but we can all do our part:
- Shop at black-owned businesses.
- We are all responsible for advocating for our black brothers and sisters.
- Educate yourself, your friends, and your family about white privilege.
- Risk your comfort zone and speak out when you see racial injustice.
- Get involved in local communities working for real change.
Reach Out to a Counselor
As always, if you find yourself struggling in these areas, do not hesitate to reach out for help. A licensed therapist or counselor can help empower you to be your best self!
Susan Merkel is a licensed social worker. When she is not working or advocating, Susan loves spending time with her family, dog, and cat. Susan loves reading, kayaking, horseback riding, hiking, the beach, and movies. Susan’s passion is working with members of the adoption constellation, including adoptive parents, adoptees, birthparents, pre-adoptive parents.
EWC has locations in Manalapan and Shrewsbury, NJ, and accepts a variety of insurances.
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NEXT STEPS & RESOURCES
- Are you ready to take your first step? Reach out to us.
- Do you feel you may benefit from counseling during this time? Take the first step.
- Interested in online counseling? Learn more.
- Resources for understanding white privilege and anti-racism: