Black History Thoughts…

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.


6 thoughts on “Black History Thoughts…

  1. And it shouldn’t be a month thing…it should be all-year long.

    I found an interesting thing on MSN called “Eight Women You Should Know About”—Black women who have accomplished things in many different fields. It’s saved on my home computer…I’ll link it when I get home later.

  2. This is from Ken Burns.

    “In stead of suggesting that black history is an inconsequential, politically correct addendum to the American narrative, relegated in the national dialogue to February, the coldest and shortest month, our study of jazz offers the explosive hypothesis that those who have had the peculiar experience of being unfree in a free land might actually be at the center of our history”

  3. A little late for a comment, but in the UK “Black History” has been taken over by the “Afro-Centric” brigade. All they want to do is try and steal European history by saying “every thing comes from Africa”. Africa in this case is usually Egypt, so really not the point!

    The worst of it is that there are Real Black Heroes who could be promoted without trying to “steal from the European culture”.

    Here’s a list of peoples and empires that could be promoted in Black History Month without having to take credit for anyone else’s culture.

    1) The Queen of Sheba (circa 700 BC) – she worshipped the Sun but was also a believer in one god and had a child by Solomon (Old testament). She ruled over “Punt” (or Melkat Sabaa as the Muslims call it in the Quran ‘Sura 27’) which covered parts of the modern Yemen and Ethiopia when incense was the most precious thing on Earth.
    2) Mary Seacole (1805-1881) – a Victorian heroine of nursing in the Crimea and whose funeral was a time of national mourning attended by thousands.
    3) Benin Empire or Edo Empire (1470-1897) which ruled a glittering empire in West Africa for centuries.
    4) Great Zimbabwe – A southern African Empire founded around 1000AD. The history of this empire is only now being uncovered.
    5) The Kush or Nubian Kingdom – circa 1100 BC – 300 AD (?) Which for periods of time controlled upper Egypt and had Black Pharaohs (sometimes it was in turn controlled by Egypt). Mostly they never controlled lower Egypt, so in effect there were two Pharaohs at the same time for a hundred years, but under King Piye they briefly (752 – 695 BC) controlled all Egypt. Eventually they were driven out of Egypt but the Romans had diplomatic relations (Pliny the Elder,) with Kush (now called Meroe) under Emperor Nero.
    6) Lewis Howard Latimer – In 1881, he supervised installation of electric light in New York, Philadelphia, Montreal, and London. Latimer was the original draftsman for Thomas Edison. He had many interests. He was a draftsman, engineer, author, poet, musician, and, at the same time, a devoted family man and philanthropist.
    7) Granville T. Woods – the “Black Edison” invented more than a dozen devices to improve electric railway cars and many more for controlling the flow of electricity. His most noted invention was systems for letting the engineer of a train know how close his train was to others.
    8) Dr. Meridith Groudine – built a multi-million dollar corporation that is based on his ideas in the field of electrogasdynamics (EGD). Using the principles of EGD, Gourdine successfully converted natural gas to electricity for everyday use. Applications of EGD include refrigeration, desalination of sea water, and reducing the pollutants in smoke. He holds more than 40 patents for various inventions. In 1964, he served on the President’s Panel on Energy.
    9) George Washington Carver – Born into slavery, freed as a child, curious throughout life, Carver profoundly affected the lives of people throughout the nation. He successfully shifted Southern farming away from risky cotton, which depletes soil of its nutrients, to nitrate-producing crops such as peanuts, peas, sweet potatoes, pecans, and soybeans. Farmers began rotating crops of cotton one year with peanuts the next. Other Carver innovations include synthetic marble from sawdust, plastics from wood shavings, and writing paper from wisteria vines.
    10) Madame Walker – revolutionized the hair care and cosmetics industry early in the 20th century and became a Multi Millionairess.
    11) Finally, although this list is not exhaustive, Elijah McCoy – “The real McCoy” – He earned more than 50 patents. The most famous was for a metal or glass cup that fed oil to bearings through a small bore tube. Machinists and engineers who wanted genuine McCoy lubricators may well have originated the term, “the real McCoy.”

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