Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A comprehensive celebration

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.

-ACL

12 "Insiders" spoke their mind. Join in...:

The H.C. said...

Hey Dre,
The strange thing about history is that it is all in the eye of the beholder. Most of what I thought was "fact-based" history when I was a child is now refuted as being distorted by prejudice. Was Custer's Last Stand a brutal massacre or simply a people defending themselves? Pre-WWII is seldom taught and we are lead to believe that the Germans simply lost their minds. No discussion is allowed on the role of Jewish bankers in causing the depressed economic state of the average German prior to WWII. (I'm not justifying their actions, just exploring the history) the Crusades are almost always taught from the moment of Christians attacking the Muslims and never from the point of view of the Christians who were mass murdered and driven from most of Europe by the Muslims prior to the Crusades. My faith in "history" is diminished by the way we keep changing it to suit present politics. How can I except anything as "fact"? I'm very glad to see African-Americans finally get their due for their many contributions and I think it's a good thing to separate a time to give their point of view on history. But as far as incorporating that view as "fact" and the final word is a little disconcerning. Isn't that just as bad as when we white people claimed Custer's Last Stand was a "Massacre"? I don't know what the answer is to properly stating "history", but I do know that if we are to come even close to being accurate we're going to have to explore ALL SIDES, and I for one am glad that there is a BHM for African-Americans to tell their side.

Andre said...

@ HC: "I'm very glad to see African-Americans finally get their due for their many contributions and I think it's a good thing to separate a time to give their point of view on history."

My point challenges this. Black history is inseparable from any other kind of American history. The way we recogize it should be a reflection of that inseparability.

"But as far as incorporating that view as "fact" and the final word is a little disconcerning."

I don't see why. There are hundreds of "facts" regarding black history that often get lost when folks narrowly focus on certain aspects of our history. A large majority of those facts that you question have likely gone uncontroverted.

"I don't know what the answer is to properly stating "history", but I do know that if we are to come even close to being accurate we're going to have to explore ALL SIDES..."

I agree with this assessment. I think it's for that reason that I'll continue to argue that "all sides" doesn't stop at discussions about key figures in Black history and what they did, which seems to be the angle BHM takes. The discussion should also include the questions of "why certain things happened" and "how they happened" and "what else is there within that context/what are we missing in this discussion".

The H.C. said...

Hey Dre,
"My point challenges this. Black history is inseparable from any other kind of American history."

And my point is that virtually no part of American history is accepted by everybody. Take for instance the Civil War-was it fought over slavery or states rights? Was Lincoln an abolishionist or just a politician who would have left blacks in slavery if it would keep the Union together? See, almost all parts of history are debatable. I can't just say the Civil War was fought to free slaves and that Lincoln was an abolishionist and define that as "history". I can say that is the view of most whites or even most Americans but does that make it fact?

"There are hundreds of "facts" regarding black history that often get lost when folks narrowly focus on certain aspects of our history. A large majority of those facts that you question have likely gone uncontroverted."
Agreed, it's the ones that aren't uncontroverted that concern me. History is full of people who's role was diminished for one reason or another (most often prejudice). Is it accurate to then turn to those people and let them rewrite history from their own perspective?

I agree there are things in history that should be accepted as "fact", like that the WTC was attacked on Sept. 11, 2001 but who gets to write the rest of the story? The Government? Internet Conspiracy Theorists? Muslim Countries? I no longer accept history as being anything but one group's perspective. It so hard to say "This is the way it was" as long as some people disagree.

BTW, how the heck do you make comments italicized? Good Post Dre!

Malik said...

"Black history is you. Black history is me."

Thank you for pointing out that we are writing Black history at this very moment, with everything we do and say. History isn't something that we contemplate from afar. We live and make it every day. What it will mean is for us to decide.

Carmen D. said...

I love this post, Dre. Love it. I am deeply honored to "know" you. Thanks for the shout out!

Malik said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lone Grey Squirrel said...

A very good post. I wish more people especially those in charge of education would listen to you. History should celebrate all men's journey and the contributions they make for better or worse to their people, country and to the world. It serves us all better if we recognise the reasons of cause and effect than just try to make heroes of a few individuals.

The H.C. said...

10 IN A ROW!!! What better present for Black History Month than a black nominee! And what a great present to all of America...the end to the Dynasties.

Andre said...

@ Hippie: "I can say that is the view of most whites or even most Americans but does that make it fact?"

I think you can at least agree with me in that fact and truth (revisionist or not) often takes a backseat to what gets published in history books. So I think that you and I share the same sentiments; we just used different analytical routes to get there.

BTW, I can show you how to italicize things, but I'm not sure if I can do it in this comment board, without that code actually being read. If I see you on campus, I'll show you.

@ Malik: "History isn't something that we contemplate from afar. We live and make it every day. What it will mean is for us to decide."

Well put. That says it all to me. If I had your skill of brevity, I could save a whole lot of time blogging.

@ Carmen: "I am deeply honored to "know" you."

Your talent for expression and crazy intellect drew me to you first. So trust me when I say that the pleasure is all mine...

@ LGS: "It serves us all better if we recognise the reasons of cause and effect than just try to make heroes of a few individuals."

Outstanding point! I've always thought that history was focused on feats of individualism. We try so hard to make those feats noble and intrepid that the real history behind some things (as Hippie pointed out) are often obfuscated.

@ Hippie (part 2): Win or lose, I relish in the fact that I can tell my grandkids (if I can ever get a lady, that is...) that Sen. Obama really came to play. This dude's campaign is a beast right now. And, yes, you're correct in saying that this ties in perfectly with the history that blacks make everyday.

Villager said...

My first visit to your blog. I like the flow. re: Black History Month --> my suggestion is to honor our history 365 days of the year ... not just in February. One of the beautiful things about owning our own blogs is that we can focus on issues that we want to focus on. Perhaps you can have a regular Black History factoid or post on your blog. I try to do it through my weekly Manic Monday meme.

Anyhow, good thoughts re: educational curriculum. However, I beleive in controlling those things we can control...

peace, Villager

Andre said...

@ Villager: Welcome to my...uh...village. I hope you enjoy your stay.

"Perhaps you can have a regular Black History factoid or post on your blog."

That's a good look. I never thought about that. I'll have to play around with blogger to see how I can accomplish that. Great idea!

heiresschild said...

i agree about Black history being honored 365 days a year, but the month came about because there was a time when there was no mention of Black history at all. i remember last year when i mentioned it on my blog that someone said they had never heard of Black History Month. they don't live in the states though, so that may have been why. this year, i decided to write about some of the people that aren't focused on a lot, and when i named Sojourner Truth along with MLK and some of the other well-known names, someone said she hadn't heard of Sojourner Truth before so i included her in my posts. it's been an informative time, even for me as i'm still learning interesting tidbits about great African Americans.