February is African American History Month: The blessing and burden of being Black in America

February 16, 2023 | by Rev. Camile Henderson-Edwards,Rev. Kendal McBroom

February is African American History Month: The blessing and burden of being Black in America

We have been here before.

We have been to this disorienting intersection of celebrating Blackness while mourning yet another Black life. The recent killing and released video footage of Tyre Nichols at the onset of Black History Month, reignites the sobering reality that it is both a blessing and a burden to be Black in an anti-Black America.

As Black people, we carry the blessing of witnessing Christ at work through the expression of Black life. Black joy, Black resilience, and Black ingenuity are undeniable markers of the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. We simultaneously carry the burden of what W.E.B DuBois, co-founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (1909) and the first Black to earn a PhD from Harvard University (1895), called “double consciousness.” We must contend with being Black and American as we cope with deadly acts of repeated injustice.

Standing at such a familiar intersection, perhaps the call of this year’s Black History Month is to acknowledge the past, contend with the present, and prepare for the future.


What the officers in Memphis did to Tyre Nichols is an example of what happens when the systems, behaviors, and beliefs of white supremacy take root in an institution and in individuals. Though visibly Black, these officers were active participants in the vile behavior of white supremacy, which seeks to dehumanize, denigrate and destroy the very blackness they visibly embody. Their actions were no different than what Klan members did to Emmitt Till in 1955. These actions were no different than how law enforcement officers would allow racist mobs to overcome Black detainees and take them to be lynched.

However, because white supremacy is motivated by hate and violent intimidation, it doesn’t matter that the officers in this case who were charged with murder and guilty of assaulting Tyre’s Black body were also Black. These officers were comfortable operating within a system that is part of American policing. The system of American policing began as a product of slave patrols and controlling Black bodies while protecting white property. When this history is understood, albeit abhorrent, it makes it clearer to see why the officers felt the need to respond in the way they did to Tyre Nichols.

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The Rev. Camille Henderson-Edwards is the Director for Economic, Health and Gender Justice at The General Board of Church and Society. She is also the Church and Society liaison for BMCR, the Black Methodists for Church Renewal caucus of the United Methodist Church.
The Rev. Kendal McBroom is the Director of Civil and Human Rights at the General Board of Church and Society. He is also the Church and Society liaison for MARCHA, the Hispanic/Latino caucus for the United Methodist Church.