History is written by the winners. That’s how the world works. The weak get erased and the strong prevail and are blessed with an on-going legacy.
So, what does that have to do with anything? Especially with Black History? Well how many of us would have known about Katherine G Johnson, Dorothy J Vaughan, or Mary Jackson if it wasn’t for the movie Hidden Figures? Do we know who Barbra Jordon is, or who Pauli Murray, or why there are such things are HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Do we know what happened to Black Wall Street or that Aretha Franklin was the first woman EVER to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, or that Madam C.J. Walker was the first self-made female millionaire?
The truth is that the African American community has been greatly shortchanged in our representation in history. There is wrongful dichotomy that black history is composed of only slavery and civil rights, and we are subject to being pushed to the background of history as if George Washington could have led the American army if it wasn’t for the fact the his livelihood was already secured by the labor of hundreds of black men and women. Thomas Jefferson had no business traveling to France and spending his time writing books and being scholarly if he had to plow the fields to provide for his daily meals.
Since the beginning this country, which was literally built on the backs of slaves, has profited by oppressing and marginalizing people of color including Indigenous Americans, Asian Americans, and Latino Americans. We have had to be pacified with a sham of a treaty. Here, take your Black History Month and be done. You should be happy, you have a whole month dedicated to you (not mention the irony of it being the shortest month of the year, but who’s counting?). What else do you want?
What I want is a fair share of the country I helped to build. What I want is the continual acknowledgment of the contributions that the African American community has made to the progression of this country. There is not part of this wonderful country’s history that hasn’t been touched by black hands, and it’s about dang time that we started learning a more cohesive history. I want to be able to open a text book and see someone that looks like me without the words slavery or Jim Crow on the page. I want other people to be able to list scholarly African Americans the way that they can remember feuding rappers or basketball statistics.
What do we have to lose? What is the worst thing that can happen if little black girls and boys see heroes that they can emulate coming from their own communities? We strengthen the African America community? There can be something associated with being black that doesn’t include the stereotype of athleticism or the assumption of “ghetto” culture?
Even Black History Month hasn’t escaped the “Token Friend Phenomena”. Always there are cries and rallies about Martin Luther King Jr., about the great work that he has done and the wonderful things that he has said. We celebrate Rosa Parks, Jackie Robinson, and Barack Obama. Somehow the people who are quick to fling these names into the air are the same people who’s ancestors flung rocks into their homes. I find it very interesting, that somehow even in Black History Month, we are still tokens in a system that has never been intended to work for us. There’s still the hint of “look at how well they worked with white people to go about change” that leaves a lingering taste in my mouth. All of these people faced mass amounts of criticism on their performance because of their race, all of these people were considered less than their white counterparts, all of these people were subject to unreal expectations with the intention of their failure.
Black History Month lives across the street from “I can’t be racist, I have a (insert ethnicity here) friend”. It perpetuates the idea that one interaction negates the effect of multiple years of oppression, or that association frees one from the implications of their actions, and the accountability of their peers. It’s something used to justify the continuation of a problem that our country has, that we, as an African American community, should be satisfied with the gift of a seat in the room of history. That our request for more is anything short of ungrateful, that we in our pleas for acknowledgment are in fact contributing to the problem.
I don’t want just a seat in the room, I want a spot at the table.
Also, here are some cool reads about why we don’t need a White History Month (you know other than the fact that the concept of whiteness is arbitrary, but that’s for a whole other post).