Time to Revise Black History Month?
Black History Month, African Heritage Month, or whatever politically correct term is in vogue at the present time, is here and gone. And once again, like every other year, the collective head at every school turns towards the “token representatives” or “native informants” to spread wisdom and enlighten the masses. Every February, the invisible (read Big and Black) elephant casually enters the room as staffrooms and equity committees in schools tussle with the question of, “So, what are we going to do this year to celebrate Black History Month?” The burden of responsibility yet again falls on the shoulders of those individuals who are actually invested in seeing a rupture of the status quo and those people who actually want to foster a sense of awareness and critical consciousness about a hegemonic system that has and continues to create systemic imbalances. But I am tired of doing this. I am tired of running this play. Why do I have to always figure out how to spread consciousness about a subject that not only affects me, but also affects everyone?
Then I thought of turning Black History Month on its head. Instead of Blacks leading the way and talking about how we were and continued to be wronged by a system of racism and prejudice, why don’t we have dominant bodies talking about their role. Sure, they weren’t there, but neither were we. The thought of having whites run Black History Month is dangerous in many ways. Even Blacks will argue against it, saying this is our month and it is our duty to take ownership of it. And of course a shift like this is sure to have dominant bodies taking up a defensive stance. Arguments will fly about how they didn’t do anything wrong and we now live in a post-racial world. But when a Black man gets strangled to death for selling some loose cigarettes on a New York sidewalk and all we seem to be concerned about is the rise of militarization in policing we appear to be yet again missing the point. The invisible elephant continues to stroll around. When a young Black man gets gunned down for walking through his father’s neighborhood after stopping for some Skittles we shift the focus to issues regarding anxious community watchmen and once again avoid the major topic. When bullets fly through a Black man’s skull even though he has his hands up, instead of situating a conversation on race, we look to find other ways to narrate a tragic situation. And when Blacks do organize Black History Month in their local schools and communities, dominant bodies snicker and whisper, “When are they going to get over this ‘slave’ and ‘racist thing’? Don’t they see that by bringing it up they are just keeping it alive?”
But it is not kept alive by Black people’s constant rehashing of the subject. It is kept alive by the silence of the dominant group to assertively address the topic and issues that still plague our society. There is great luxury in being oblivious to privilege. So the dominant group stands aside and gives Blacks their month to mourn, reflect, and re-envision. And when it’s over we all go back to the status quo. But I’ve had enough. I’m not playing this game anymore.
Maybe how we “do” Black History Month ought to change. Maybe Black History Month should be about the dominant bodies talking about how they enslaved Blacks. Maybe it should be about them telling us how they did us wrong. Clearly, what we’ve been doing hasn’t been working. Maybe we need to change things up a bit. Imagine that.
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