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Taking This Month to Show Gratitude for Blackness

By Kayla A. Mathieu, Crimson Opinion Writer
Kayla A. Mathieu ‘25, a Crimson Editorial Editor, is a Human Evolutionary Biology concentrator in Lowell House.

Around this time of year, it feels like there is immense pressure to make some sort of novel commentary about Black history. But while Black History Month is certainly a time to look back on the past, it is also a time to celebrate the triumphs of Blackness.

In brainstorming what I could write about this month, I found myself constantly thinking, “That’s too basic” or “I don’t have anything new to say.” Then I realized: Why write about something new at all? I could simply write about the things that I loved about Blackness.

In no particular order, as my way of celebrating Black History Month, here are a few of my favorite things about Blackness:

I admire the resilience of Black women.

I think specifically of my mother and grandmother when writing this, but also of the countless other Black women who I have looked up to as role models.

Black women are one of the most oppressed groups in the United States. Looking strictly at the wage gap, in 2019 Black women would have had to work, on average, eight extra months per year to earn the same amount as their white male colleagues. In our nation, in which Black women are valued among the least for doing the same work, some might be inclined to give up — to lose the motivation to be educated simply to enter a dehumanizing system.

Not Black women. Census data shows that Black women, in the face of all this, are overrepresented amongst women who earn master’s degrees. This is just one example of the resilience Black women display by defying the odds stacked against them — every day. From Michelle Obama to our very own President Claudine Gay, Black women continue to raise the bar and set the standard for excellence.

I love that Blackness can mean making art of struggle.

From the Impressions’ “Keep on Pushing” to Solange’s “Don’t Touch My Hair," Black artists have been channeling hard times into creating uplifting music and art for years. Black art is a reminder of not only all that we have overcome, but also how ably we can express ourselves, even in the face of adversity.

Music, by turning struggles into content that a wide audience can digest, has the unique power to push Black issues into the mainstream while also serving as a healing mechanism for Black people. Expressing ourselves through music dates back to slavery. It has certainly evolved in purpose since then, but it carries much of the same power.

I love Black cooking.

Whether it’s soul food, Haitian food, or Nigerian food, our cuisine is so versatile. I love its many cross-cultural influences and historical roots, despite the often painful history behind them. So much of the food from the Deep South has African roots. While much of their culture was stripped from them, slaves were able to maintain ties to their roots through food.

In thinking about the foods of my family, one that sticks out is cornbread. Today, it’s a special treat that I enjoy homemade by my mother on holidays, but for slaves it was part of a regular diet, as it was easy to prepare, portable, and wouldn’t spoil easily while working long days in the fields. Many staples of soul food have practical ties to being enslaved, and while I eat them today because they taste good, they also serve as a reminder of my ancestors’ relationship to these staples.

Admittedly, I am scared I won’t be able to pass this aspect of Black culture on to my kids, as I cannot cook at all. But for posterity’s sake, I certainly feel inclined to learn.

Finally, I love Black community.

Black community is itself a deeply powerful force, wherever one finds themself. Even in a predominantly white space like Harvard, the very presence of Black community makes me feel so seen and heard. It can be just a nod of acknowledgement on the street or an entire party celebrating our presence in a space that was not built for us. Regardless, the coming together of our community is a force to be reckoned with.

I could go on forever about all the things I love about Blackness, but I will leave you to your own reflections. This Black History Month, take the time to appreciate Black history — but remain present, too. It is so easy to reach back into the past and marvel at how far we have come and how far we have yet to go in the fight for equality, but this month is about more than just history. It gives us the much-needed opportunity to pause, for just a moment, and appreciate the beauty of Blackness in the midst of endless struggle.

Kayla A. Mathieu ‘25, a Crimson Editorial Editor, is a Human Evolutionary Biology concentrator in Lowell House.

This piece is a part of a focus on Black authors and experiences for Black History Month.

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