We are officially half way through Black History Month. But for some inexplicable reason, I haven’t had even a remote interest in taking part in any BHM celebrations or commemorations. I suppose that I’m done with the novelty behind the month.
I guess I should’ve prefaced this post by making it clear that I will forever recognize the importance of noting the contributions Black Americans have made – and continue to make – in our society. But – IMO, dedicating one month of the year waters down any significance of that proclamation.
Perhaps what fuels my argument most against the notion of Black History Month is the narrow scope it offers. Every year, we hear about the MLK’s, the Rosa Parks, the Harriet Tubmans, and the Fredrick Douglasses. With enough motivation, folks may even be inclined enough to toss radicals like Nat Turner and Malcolm X into the discussion. But don’t push it too far. Ultimately, Black History Month has been used to comfortably discuss some enslavement, some oppression, and some figures who rose against it. But that’s about it. While those elements certainly shape the way the world has come to be, they certainly don’t exhaustively cover the history of blacks in this country. What’s more: Black History Month is becoming dangerously similar to a bad round of Jeopardy. [This man invented the cotton gin. Who is Eli Whitney? Judges? We'll accept that.]. I’m sorry; but the ability to recall a few names, a few feats, and a few inventions will never replace having an understanding of the historical and modern-day implications associated with these tidbits of knowledge.
Though I’m sure nobody will ever listen to me (when has that ever happened..?), I have a way to deal with my frustration with Black History Month while also truly honoring the past. I don’t presume to have the lone solution, but I think it’s a start. I think the answer starts in the classroom, but can easily spread to just about every public institution. Rather than focusing on random trivia for an entire month, why not integrate Black history into American history? For that matter, we should be able to toss in contributions made by every marginalized group in this country. There are enough of them to go around; trust me. Contrary to how American tends to have a ‘celebration of the month’ philosophy, the struggles and histories of different groups is not somehow separate from the country’s struggles and history.
For the sake of concentrating on the ‘Black’ element of history (it being Black History Month and all), why not focus as much on the thoughts and ideological motivations behind different activities as we do on the activities themselves? We know about the marches, the speeches, the sit-ins and boycotts, but what’s being conveyed about the philosophies regarding those acts? How did the debates between WEB Dubois and Booker T. Washington set the stage for the openly expressed debates between MLK and Malcolm X? How did those public exchanges relate to the today’s systemic racism vs. personal responsibility debates between Michael Eric Dyson and Bill Cosby? How would some of the heroes that we honor from the past feel about the state of Black America today? What would they say about B.E.T., the growing problem of black-on-black violence, the rampant drug use, the explosion of teenage pregnancies, and the rising rate of AIDS?
As my dear blogging friend Sylvia pointed out, Black History is not limited to what has happened in times past. It also addresses present-day events and how those events will undoubtedly shape the future. It’s not just about the suffering and oppression we’ve endured, but it’s also about the strength, resolve, and esteem that arose. BMH is Joslyn, Sylvia, Carmen, Malik. It’s the emergence of the HBCU. It’s Tony Dungy. It’s Barack Obama. It’s Oprah Winfrey. It's the long list of white anti-racism activists in this country. BHM even has its occasional black sheep (pun intended).
Black history is not just as month long celebration. Black history is you. Black history is me.