I got back a little while ago from a long lunch with a few friends and co-workers. Somehow the topic of Black History Month came up and we got to talking about how our “heroes” our represented, and about the whole vibe of the month in general.
One person raised an interesting point. She said that Black History Month is little more than a curriculum addition for elemetary school children, a marketing ploy for the Coca.Cola company, and an excuse for employers to dust off their diversity plans.
I can’t say that I disagree with her. I remember when I was in Kindergarten until about probably third or fourth grade, every February there would be Black History Month posters and stuff all over the room. There were the obligatory picures of the likes of Dr. MLK, Jr., Rosa Parks, Frederick Douglass, and Harriet Tubman hung on the windows next to the Valentine’s Day hearts. Of course we had to do a book report or present a piece about one of the prominent “Black History Month Heroes” (in costume of course), and we learned the words to “Lift Ev’ry Voice”. That was all well and good, after all, there’s only so much a six year old will absorb. But once I got to middle and high school, there was no more of that. (And apparently I was lucky to get what I got in elementary according to some people) There was no special BHM lesson unless your unit on the slave trade just happened to fall in February. You’d hear “Oh yeah, there were some slaves, they got treated badly…” if you were lucky.
As for Coca-Cola marketing ploys, I’m so inclined to agree. During the superbowl, I kept seeing these commercials that were devoid of much other than timeline facts then of course something about how Coke celebrates black history. I’m fairly certain Coke was just trying to cloy at our heartstrings and sell more product, I’m sure they don’t give a damn about real black history.
Employment wise, I have no comment because my company refuses to acknowledge BHM. I have worked for some that do, and they usually do dust off the diversity manual and have a program that deals with black history and there’s a motivational speaker who explains how he succeeded in life despite being held down by racial chains. I suppose that’s all well and good, but I wonder if anyone truly pays attention.
Like I said, I see where she was coming from with her comments. But my own issue with BHM comes from the fact that we as a people (I mean black folks–and SOME, NOT ALL) tend to complain about how we got the shortest month of the year to celebrate our history, but so few of us actually bother to honor our past. Many times it appears that more non-black teachers, etc are teaching our little ones about their history and who they are, rather than they learn from the people that look like them. The general apathy toward our history worries me. Of course I don’t want every black person to walk outside and throw a fist up in the air in Black Power solidarity, but damn…at least give honor to those black folk who came before us. We also need to recognize that the alpha and omega of black history aren’t the people that we hear about often. Black History also encompasses the stories of our ancestors–our parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and so on. By not continuing to give voice to their stories, we insult their legacy. We insult the very thing that makes us who we are and unites us.
I proudly tell the stories that my grandparents told me, especially because they are no longer with us. So in order for their history to be passed on, someone has to take the initiative and re-tell the stories, share the pictures, and recant the memories. Please don’t get me wrong, I appreciate all of what the big-name “heroes” have done, but I also appreciate and honor my great-grandparents for being so responsibile as to hold on to the real estate they were given and pass it down through my family. I’m proud that my great-uncle flew with Tuskeegee Airmen. I’m proud that my grandmother taught her mother to read, and was the first in her family from Jamaica to attend college. I appreciate my step-granddaddy (who recently passed away at age 105) for raising his family on the farm. I appreciate all the stories that I’ve been told that I’m able to recount anytime. Yeah, that’s my history and I’m damn proud of it.
Every day I walk out of my door, I’m creating some type of history. And I keep in the back of my mind that my ancestors stood in and walked through the fire so that I wouldn’t have to. They did what they had to do, so I can do the things I want to do. Me doing anything less than my best in every arena of my life would be the same as me walking up to one of them and saying, “Your struggle means nothing to me”.
I’m sooo sad when I hear kids say that Dr. MLK, Jr. was an abolitionist or they don’t know who Rosa Parks was. I’m even more sad when kids don’t know what their own family fabric is made of–and that’s the most important history they have. When they can’t tell me if they have goals and ambitions, I’m sad for their elders, I’m sad for everything people went through to assure those kids had a future that didn’t involve getting lynched or worse.
I know I’m kind of rambling now, so I’m going to cut this off… All I can say is please make sure you use this month to learn about your own history, not just the history “they” want you to know.