Black History Month & Beyond: Intersectionality & Peacebuilding

By: Joanna Hoffman, Events & Communications Manager

“For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us to temporarily beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change. Racism and homophobia are real conditions of all our lives in this place and time. I urge each one of us here to reach down into that deep place of knowledge inside herself and touch that terror and loathing of any difference that lives here. See whose face it wears. Then the personal as the political can begin to illuminate all our choices.” 
― Audre Lorde 

This year, the official theme for Black History Month is “Hallowed Grounds: Sites of African American Memories”, which range from stops along the underground railroad to Fredrick Douglas’ home, 125th Street in Harlem, and Sweet Auburn Avenue in Atlanta.  This year marks the 40th anniversary of Black History Month since its founding in 1976 by Dr. Carter Woodson and the Association for the Study of African American Life & History (ASALH). The commemoration aims to spread awareness about the black experiences and attempt to fill in some of the enormous erasure in our history around black lives and the invaluable contributions they have made and continue to make to the society and world we live in.

It should go without saying that we absolutely need a Black History Month, and also that one month is not enough to adequately acknowledge and celebrate black history. This is underscored by the fact that few children learn about Claudette Colvin, who was 15 years old when she became the first person to defy bus segregation in Montgomery, Alabama, nine months before Rosa Parks’ arrest; or Matthew Henson, the first African-American Arctic explorer and considered by many as the first man to reach the North Pole; or Madam Efunroye Tinubu, a powerful female aristocrat from West Africa who campaigned against slavery in the 1800s.  How many other stories are missing from textbooks, encyclopedias, and conversations about the people who have shaped our lives? And when these stories are not just missing but meaningfully erased, what does that say about which stories and lives are truly valued in this country?

That is why #BlackLivesMatter is a necessary hashtag, and also so much more than one. #AllLivesMatter is not a viable response, to say the least, because our history and current society has always maintained that white lives matter. But as long as people of color continue to be murdered with impunity, mass incarcerated, and subjected to the social, political, economic, physical and spiritual manifestations of racism, it needs to be said time and time again that black lives do matter.

At Peace is Loud, when we talk about peace and peacebuilding, we see both as multifaceted, intersectional words. Peace is more than just the absence of war—it’s an active approach to creating a more equitable world that requires the recognition of and respect for different perspectives. Our individual definitions of peace reflect our lived experiences, and by that very nature are limited. Building a truly peaceful world means sharing our own stories, listening with full attention to the stories that are not our own, and refusing to be silent when anyone’s peace is under attack.

In his famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” As activists and advocates for peace, we must keep his words in mind in every aspect of our work. Whose stories are being told? Who has been left out? Are we constantly creating space for people to tell their own stories? How can we expand our narrow definitions of peace, safety and freedom? Most importantly, how can we work to manifest peace not as a vague dream for the future, but as an everyday goal?

We can examine our own privileges and how they hurt people who don’t have them, regardless of our intent. We can interrupt the racist “joke” or homophobic comment made by a friend or family member or coworker and educate them as to the true impact of their words. And this Black History Month, and every month, we can celebrate the voices and the hallowed grounds that have been actively silenced and erased throughout history, and dedicate ourselves to listening, learning and building the kind of peace that honors all of us.