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Black History Month's Significance to the Juniata Campus

(Posted February 27, 2013)

Rosalie Rodriguez, assistant to the president for Diversity and Inclusion

This past Wednesday night, the African-American Student Alliance organized a public viewing of the movie Night Catches Us in honor of Black History Month. Rosalie Rodriguez, AASA's club advisor and the assistant to the president for Diversity and Inclusion, shares her thoughts on Black History Month and the film's portrayal of the Black Panther Movement.

Q: Do you think films such as Night Catches Us accurately depict the struggles faced by the black community in the years following the civil rights movement?

A: I don't think this film in particular accurately depicted these struggles. It painted a picture of the one character's view of these struggles that still continued, like police brutality and racial bias, as crazy and almost paranoid. But we know that racial bias in police enforcement still exists today, so the film did not accurately portray that. Another character's attempt to up and leave the community made it seem like these remnants are something you can escape. Racial bias exists in every community throughout the United States, so I thought this was unrealistic.

Q: The Black Panther Movement is often viewed as being counterproductive to the civil rights movement because of its militaristic rhetoric and actions. Do you think the Party was accurately portrayed in the film?

A: There are a lot of mixed feelings about the success of the Black Panther Movement, and it's a very complex debate. On one hand, it gave a lot of black pride and empowerment to black communities, and it allowed them to recognize that they needed to stand up for themselves because they couldn't rely on the government structures to do it for them. So, it raised a lot of awareness, but at the same time, some of the methodology and the violence could have been counterproductive by actually getting members of the community killed.

Q: There has been some debate in recent years over whether Black History Month is still relevant to today's society. What are your thoughts on this?

A: I think that these stories need to be told and included in history, and that having these months encourages awareness. We still need months like this to ensure that issues such as the opportunity gap between the majority and minority populations and racial bias are recognized. But I think that ideally we would not have them anymore. The goal is that there would be no Black History Month, and that this history would be recognized as part of American history.

Q: Although many Americans are under the impression that the oppression and discrimination against African-Americans is long in the past, do you think remnants of these struggles still exist today?

A: In reality, there's still a huge opportunity gap. A good example is the current prison system, which mimics the same structures that were under Jim Crow and slavery. After you have a criminal record, and you're released from prison, a lot of civil rights can be violated for the rest of your life. You're not likely to get employment anywhere, regardless of your educational background, and any wages you do get can be garnisheed up to 100 percent to pay back your legal fees and imprisonment term. You're not eligible for food or housing assistance, and you can't live with family members who are being aided by these systems.

Q: Although Juniata is proud to have a relatively diverse campus, do you think college students are still aware of the importance of Black History Month?

A: I definitely think that there is a tendency for people to think that we live in a postracial society or that because they're not racist, and don't hold prejudicial views of others, then the same is true for the rest of society.

-Melissa Famularo '13, Juniata Online Journalist

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