One Man鈥檚 Perspective on Blackness in America during Black History Month

February is Black History Month. Do you ever wonder why February has been designated to honor the accomplishments of Black Americans and their contributions to our society?

February is the birth month of two men who had a significant and lasting influence on the lives of Black people in America: President Abraham Lincoln and African American abolitionist, author, and orator Frederick Douglass. Since the deaths of these two men in the 1800s, the Black community has designated their birthdays (Lincoln on Feb. 12 and Douglass’ estimated birthdate of Feb. 14) to celebrate their contributions to the liberation of African Americans and the advancement of civil rights.

Originally celebrated as Negro History Week in 1925, it wasn鈥檛 until the nation鈥檚 bicentennial in 1976 that President Gerald R. Ford urged Americans to 鈥渟eize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.鈥 That year 鈥 50 years after the first celebration 鈥 the first Black History Month was held.

In honor of Black History Month, this month鈥檚 Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion blog鈥檚 guest writer is James Simons, M.D., a third-year resident in The Wright Center鈥檚 Family Medicine Residency. In the article, Dr. Simons shares his unique perspective on his identity as a Black man.

James Simons, M.D.
The Wright Center for 皇家华人 Medical Education
Family Medicine Resident 鈥 PGY-3

Being Black is not the same experience for everyone

Hello, my name is James Simons. My parents are from Accra, the capital of Ghana, on the Atlantic coast of West Africa. I was born in Newark, New Jersey, and grew up in Vancouver, Canada.

Demographically, you can describe me as African American-Canadian, but if asked I would simply identify as Black. I was honored and humbled when Dr. Alexies Samonte asked me to share my experience with Black Identity as part of Black History Month.

I would like to say that Black Identity is varied and that my definition is not all-encompassing. My experiences as a Black man in Canada and the United States may be completely different than the experiences of my colleagues here or in other countries. My definition of being Black is unique to me, but is influenced by shared experiences. I will share with you a definition of Black Identity as I have experienced it.

Do others see beyond our Blackness?

Research has shown that those who identify as Black believe that their Blackness is deeply related to how they see themselves. Our Blackness defines many of us and is closely tied to how we believe other people perceive us. 

Black people often feel that when people meet us, the first thing they see is our Blackness. At times we fear that there may be a preconceived notion attached to that. Whether or not this is always the case, it is often our experience. There is a duality in that the part of our identity which we believe is fundamental can also be detrimental.

Inherent in Black Identity lies a fear of bias and prejudice which can transform into a lack of ambition. In my experience, I was taught that I had to be twice as good, work twice as hard, and be perpetually well-mannered to be given an equal opportunity amongst my counterparts. This is an experience I have heard echoed by others.

Another part of Black Identity means that we are always representatives of our entire race in spaces where we are scarce. We are instructed to be well-behaved 鈥 to not fall into the negative stereotypes of a Black man or a Black woman. These were just some of the things that came to mind when I was asked to define Black Identity.

George Floyd changed the narrative

These were just some of the things that came to mind when I was asked to define Black Identity. When George Floyd was murdered in May of 2020, Americans were forced to confront how they think about race and race relations. We were given an opportunity to contemplate how we identify and how we interact with those who have different experiences than us.

A dialogue was started, and for a time people were open to more thoughtful discussions. As time went on, interest waned, and we were confronted with different issues and discussions. During that time, I was hopeful that more commonalities would be found amongst us, but as time went on people lost their interest.

I hope by reading this blog I can open the forum for more discussions like the ones we had then. I hope that through these discussions we can see that there is more that unites us as people than divides us. I used this blog to mention a few things that I believed defined Black Identity, but it is also true that many of us fear bias who do not identify as Black. Those who have other racial identities also have fears of being stereotyped and in response overcompensate to be given fair treatment.

There is more that unites us than divides us

I set out to identify traits that define Black Identity, but in doing so I confirmed what I鈥檝e always believed to be true: That there is more that unites us as people than divides us as different races. Black Identity, like any racial identity, is complex, nuanced, and entrenched in centuries of heritage. I do not think I am equipped to define it appropriately and completely in one blog post.聽

However, I do hope to use this as an open invitation to continue the discussion about racial identity and to foster a deep understanding of those around us.

Thank you,

James Simons, M.D.
The Wright Center for 皇家华人 Medical Education
Family Medicine Resident 鈥 PGY-3