Well, Black History Month is over. Hope you enjoyed your kente-print streamers and gaze upon your decorative baobab tree. Before you gently place your commemorative Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass salt and pepper shakers back in the curio, not to be seen for another years’ time, riddle me this: What new thing have you learned about black people in this fleeting 28-day celebration? I’ll wait.

Mmm hmm. Still waitin’.


 My daughter when she was 5 at the Kunta Kinte Memorial in Annapolis. Every day is Black History Month in our household!

Could your awkward silence on the other side of the screen be because Black History Month, for all of its good intention, hardly seems or feels or appears to be relevant anymore? The White House released a humdinger of a proclamation, formally inspiring cable networks to color their typically lily white programming with back-to-back airings of beloved African-American classics like “A Raisin in the Sun,” “The Color Purple” and “Boyz n the Hood.” (Just for the month, though. Don’t be thinking you’re gonna see it in March.)

I even saw “Sounder” listed on the guide once or twice. You know it’s Black History Month when you see “Sounder” on TV.

But learning, really learning about the people, the cultures, the experiences — outside of trips to the local soul food joint and watching reruns of “The Cosby Show” — has diminished, if it ever really was. And Black History Month has devolved into a series of quotes, a few random speeches and community-based events that acknowledge our four-week black-a-thon on almost exclusively local levels.

Instead of cultivating the celebration to create greater understanding about who we are, especially since everybody is pushing this claim to be all multi-culti, it’s become an obligation, a bone we’re still allowed to be thrown just so we don’t holler racism. Even we don’t hoorah it like we should and it’s our damn month.

There are two basic facts that just about every American knows about black folks: We marched for civil rights and we survived slavery. (Toss in there some generalizations like “They’re all good dancers” or “I’ve never seen a black guy who couldn’t play basketball.”) The black experience is bigger than that, of course, both in America and abroad. In fact, there’s an entire diaspora that gets detached from the millions in this country but is still very much a part of black history. It’s the black history no one really talks about. Not here, anyway.

If you want to know about the cultural perceptions and climate here in America, you don’t have to look any further than the comments section of a blog post about race. That’s where the shroud of anonymity coaxes folks to unpack their real feelings and they. let. fly.

On Tuesday, I wrote a blog post acknowledging the one-year anniversary of Trayvon Martin’s murder — not death, but murder — for a site I’ve enjoyed writing for for two years. The readership and I rarely agree on any issue involving race — I, the cantankerous, outspoken sistagirl and they, the audience of predominantly white women who respond to discussions on the matter by either getting defensive of their whiteness or acting like everyone is exactly the same, floating on a fluffy pink cloud of universal similarity. Either way, they get good and inflamed on the subject.

“We cannot have an honest discussion because you Janelle like to scream Racism every minute of the day. There has been absolutely no proof that Trayvon was killed because of racism, just what the poverty pimps Jesse and All said and what Msnbc doctored,” one lady barked. (The errors are hers, not mine.)

She wasn’t done. So hype was she that she added a comment immediately after her first: “When stop sceaming “racist” and stop making yourself and your daughter a victim, when things don’t go your way, we can have an honest discussion. But until then, it won’t happen.”

Then there was this from another reader: “I am also sick and tired of being made to feel bad, because I am white. My children have the same exact opportunities that Trayvon did. The only difference is is that I demand they get an education and discipline them when they do wrong. I also teach them values and to respect themselves and not to get pregnant until they are married or out of school, because it is much harder to make something of yourself with kids. It can be done. How about you acknowledge that 7 out of 10 kids born in the black community are born out of wedlock?” OK, that last part was totally random. But by golly, she got it off her chest.

You can’t force the change that needs to happen to correct this kind of raw hostility and antagonism in just 28 lil’ ol’ days. That’s a lot of pressure on one itty bitty month to fix what appears to be a lifetime of resentment, all bottled up and released in a short blurb on some mouthy black chick’s blog post.

But it does confirm, at least in part, why Black History Month is so glazed over: Some white folks are genuinely resentful when even confronted with the possibility of having to think outside of the familiarity of their them-ness. (So are some people in other groups, but that’s not the conversation we’re having right now, so don’t try to engage me in the my race vs. your race, tit-for-tat thing. I’m black. I’ve already been through too much).

When you’re part of a majority — and I don’t care what statistics say, white people are still calling the shots, still running the government and still making the bulk of the money, hence they’re still the majority — you don’t have to seize the opportunity to learn about other races or cultures unless you want to. It’s optional. Any suggestion otherwise creates static, as demonstrated so vividly above, which is actually pretty mild compared to feedback I’ve gotten.

For four short weeks, Black History Month is an opportunity to bring the authenticity of who we are to the fore. And, even by accident, someone might learn something outside of the same old same old that’s been on annual replay. I love Martin and Malcolm, Oprah and Beyonce, and of course, Harriet and Frederick, but there’s so much of our story that remains largely unheard. (Maybe we just need better PR.)

In the meantime we, you and I, can have the conversation about race anytime. I’m availing myself as a national black spokeswoman. Don’t run the risk of getting a cuss-out or, at the very least, a really nasty look by rolling up on the black lady who drives your commuter bus or the black fellow who just relocated to the office next to yours. Don’t do that. That will more than likely not end well, and race relations are shaky enough as it is.

But I am pretty pleasant, and I’m happy to stand in the gap on the things-everyone-should-know-about-Black-America line of questioning until next February, when we’ll stand on the threshold of another, hopefully better, month of juicy black history.

This post originally appeared on XOJane. Republished with permission. Click here for more Janelle on XOJane! 

  • Jay

    I’m so tired of attacks on Black History Month by self-hating Black people. At some point attacking BHM became the thing to do, the thing to get clicks, and ya’ll are running with it. Does our approach to BHM need to change? Yes, yes and triple yes. Do we need to broaden the scope of the people and accomplishments highlighted during BHM? Hell yes! However, and maybe it’s just me, but I NEVER hear about Asians, Hispanics, Native Americans, etc. calling for an end to the months that focus on their history. Nope, it’s only self-loathing Black people, probably the same ones that call each other niggas and talk smack about other Black people (Black men ain’t ish, girl get you a white man; Black women are ghetto, bruh, get you a Latina chick, etc.) that are calling for an end to something that while flawed, can be improved and was created to celebrate US. How about we talk about improvements rather than demolition. Good grief.

  • http://aarickawashington.wordpress.com Aaricka Washington

    I really enjoyed reading this piece! I was actually going to write a more condensed, shorter version on my facebook wall, but I felt that it might seem a little too “brash” and “radical” for some folks that I’m friends with.

    This is true. I like to think of it like this: We are all a part of black history. As a matter of fact, we are all part of American history, heck and why not even World history. The more older I get, the less I like the idea of Black History. Back when I was in elementary, it was cool…you know…learn the usual facts about MLK Jr., learn a short blurb about Malcolm X (basically the fact that he was totally different; “militant” minded), learn that Rosa Parks sat on a bus, read a few Hughes poems, Harriet Tubman lead the Underground Railroad, Jackie Robinson integrated Baseball, Abraham Lincoln was a hero to the black race therefore he is an honorary black man, yaddah yaddah.

    But now, it is totally unacceptable to just know a snippet of who we are as a people. That information that I just named are pieces to a bigger puzzle, they are without context, and only given relative meaning.

    For example, the context changes when you talk about the fact that Hughes lived in a time period where white folks were finding the black arts to be a commodity. Or that Jesse Owens and Joe Louis (as well as Black soldiers from all modern wars) were truthfully experiencing a Du Bois’ double consciousness when competing against European competitors. Or that Homer Plessy, a man that refused to get out of his seat on a train not only came before Rosa Parks but also sparked the separate but equal doctrine (Plessy vs. Ferguson, 1892) and then Jim Crow (and then Dr. Clark’s Doll Experiment helped combat this law with Brown vs. Board…Thanks Thurgood Marshall!) Claudette Colvin, along with many others have refused as well before Rosa Parks. There’s politics to every decision that Civil Rights leaders made.

    How many of us know about governmental control over African Americans’ bodies and their livelihood? Now that’s a long list.

    We must realize a few things:

    1. Black History is more than just MLK Jr., Rosa Parks, and slavery. It’s institutionalized racism, it’s the Eugenics ideology, it’s pop culture, it’s colorism, it’s gentrification, it’s the black power movement, it’s Heinretta Lacks, it’s Sarah Baartman, it’s Bert Williams, it’s Tupac Shakur, it’s Oladuah Equiano, it’s Lil’ Kim/Nicki Minaj, it’s Michael Jackson

    2. Black History includes the history of the whole African Diaspora. There is so much intersectionality within the New World countries when it comes to affects of slavery due to the forced migration of people from Africa to the Americas through the Atlantic Slave Trade.

    3. Last but not least, WE are all a part of Black History. We exist in history, even though we don’t realize it. History is not some stagnant thing of the past, history moves when we move and yet, in the same breath, history repeats itself. We are more or less swayed by society’s waters, I think, because if we had a stronger sense of agency, real change would happen.

    How many of you know what U.S. region your grandparents (or great grandparents) are from?

    Right! They were possibly a part of the Great Migration between the 1910s and the 1970s.

    And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a whole other story. lol…

  • http://commentarybyvalentina.wordpress.com Val

    To answer your first question; yes, I did learn new things about our history this February. I tend to learn new things every February. That’s because I don’t sit back waiting for White media programmers to produce new content for BHM.

    We need our own media machines to crank out new content. There are literally thousands and thousands of stories about our history that have nothing to do with White people abusing us. We have to be the driving force to bring these varied stories to light.

    Hopefully all of this complaining that some Black people do about BHM will motivate all of us to work on giving BHM its due respect.

  • http://tshepogono.blogspot.com Tshepo Gono

    If you crave Black History and one month doesn’t do it for you – you can get your Black History on an ongoing basis at tshepogono.blogspot.com

  • Echi

    “…the audience of predominantly white women who respond to discussions on the matter by … acting like everyone is exactly the same, floating on a fluffy pink cloud of universal similarity.”

    I think I hate that shit more than out and out blatant racism.

  • Selena

    I agree with this entire post. And I’d like to add that some of the worst things I’ve ever heard occur within our own community happened during this past Black History Month. Lil’ Wayne’s awful Emmett Till reference springs to mind, among other things.

    Also – I had to go Googling to find out which site you were referring to and I was not surprised to see it was CM. I remember joining there with great enthusiasm only to have it turn to extreme bitterness when I realized that there really isn’t a place for “us” there. I haven’t gone back since.

  • http://blackmothering.wordpress.com yardyspice

    Ditto! I stay away from all non-black childrearing sites because I don’t need their benign/hipster racism messing up my day. I need my racism straight up, no chaser.

    Shaking my head at this: “There has been absolutely no proof that Trayvon was killed because of racism…” Ok.

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