In many ways, Black History Month has become one long month for beneficiaries of white supremacy to assuage their guilt over slavery, or feign solidarity, and I was this close to saying ‘damn it all to hell,’ we should get rid of it.
It wasn’t because I didn’t like the shiny commercials, and “all black everything” for 28-days strong. I had just become sick and tired of the publicity stunts. You know, those corporations that only trot out a black rep during BHM, and it’s generally with some symbolic gesture to prove that they really and truly do like black people, so black people really and truly should buy their product or patronize their business for 12 months out of the year, not just one.
Very similar to how the Democratic Party made voter suppression the key issue for black America, invoking the spirit of the Selma boycott and throwing in a picture of the first Black president sitting in Rosa Parks’ seat on the bus. By the time they had finished the old Beltway Shuffle, some black people were linking arms, marching to the polls, and singing “We Have Overcome.” And some of these same people are only just now realizing that push-back against voter suppression only benefits the party in power if that party doesn’t address our specific concerns as a community once they’re in office.
Yeah, kinda like that.
When McDonald’s (strategically placed in low-income, minority neighborhoods) and Wal-Mart (one of the most unethical corporations in the country), are carrying the torch for Black History Month, then something is seriously wrong.
We’re being sold our own history.
The same white-washed stories we’re taught in schools, are being fed to us as “Black History” nuggets of wisdom about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and now President Barack Obama. And as garnish, we get to bask in our many achievements while white people debate the alleged hypocritical racism of doing so.
Today, many of us don’t use the opportunity to discuss Toni Morrison, and her brilliant deconstructions of race and colorism, or Zora Neale Hurston and her insistence that prayer is for people not at peace with the universe, who attempt through coercion to change the will of God — if there is one. We don’t pay homage to the Black Panther Party and their tireless work to bring the Free Lunch Program for Children into fruition.
Most of us don’t teach our children about Dr. King’s opposition to the Vietnam War or support of unions. We certainly don’t discuss how United States government agencies were found guilty for conspiring to assassinate him in 1999. Instead, we’ve become satisfied to let his legacy rest in “I Have a Dream.” Many of us certainly don’t discuss Harry Belafonte, Sidney Poitier and Paul Robeson. What if our children knew that the most revered artists of a generation didn’t focus on ” money, cars and hoes,” they instead used their influence to speak out again injustice, regardless of who perpetuated it, and would have been caught dead before being found guilty of what Mr. Belafonte so eloquently described as “patriotic treason”?
We most certainly don’t discuss how El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Malcolm X) embraced diversity in religion, but never stopped speaking out against the virulent racism in this country, which just this week allowed the FBI to apprehend his grandson, Malcolm Shabazz, and release no information on his whereabouts.
There are many more examples, but they all lead to the fact that many of us have allowed ourselves to become content with postage stamps and Lifetime specials. We’ve become lazy, allowing this country to repackage our history, wrap it in a shiny bow and wait for us to say thank you.
Black History is so much more than a feel good 28-day PR blitz during which accolades are valued over accountability, and if Dr. Carter G. Woodson were alive today, he would be appalled at the level of mis-education that has taken place. When he created “Black History Week” it wasn’t so that others could control with advertising dollars what sliver of our story would be recognized, but so that our history would never be forgotten — especially by us.
And it’s past time that we remembered that.