cultivate (kuhl - tuh - veyt)
v. 1) develop 2) nurture

graft (grahft)
n. 1) transplant 2) bud 3) union

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Why We Honor Black History Month

It’s controversial. If you’re asking why this is controversial, there’s a good chance you’re probably not: a) Black (me neither), or b) A transracial family (ding-ding! We have a winner!). I suppose there’s hidden option number three; You haven’t given it much thought either way, which still indicates your driver’s license most likely says “Caucasian”. Wait. I just checked my driver’s license. Apparently we don’t claim a race to drive. Well, this is awkward. I know I check that little box on forms all the time. Or maybe I’m just filling out endless forms for our gaggle of children. Anyone else feel like paperwork for routine check-ups for four kids should not require an extra 45 minutes to fill out and suggestions to ice your tendons afterward? I’m developing bone spurs over here.


Black History Month. Controversy.

Growing up, I don’t remember BHM being a thing. I remember Maypoles and Valentines and pilgrims and envying kids with Lunchables. But Black History Month? Nope. I’ve got nuthin’. If you’re completely lost, here’s a quick rundown: In 1915, a historian and a minister (Carter G. Woodson and Jesse E. Moorland) along with some of their colleagues got together and started an organization for the educating, promoting and researching of achievements made by black Americans. While the organization has changed names since its inception (they have to stay PC), it is still in effect today. In 1926 author and historian Dr. Carter G. Woodson had an idea:

We should sponsor a National Negro History Week.
Totes. When?
Second week in February.
But that puts us smack dab in the middle of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincolns’ birthdays.
Brilliant, Dr. Woodson.

It took a while to catch on, but momentum was gained as school districts and mayors threw their support behind the vision. From there, its grassroot efforts were richly rewarded. By 1976, then-president Gerald Ford had an idea:

Hey, I was thinkin’...if a little is good, a whole month will be even better. I’m calling it-Black History Month is a thing now.
Totes. When?
We better go with the shortest month of the year. Good thing National Negro History Week is already in February.
Brilliant, Mr. President.*

And that’s how it all began. I’m not sure how long after President Ford’s declaration it took for people to analyze and develop mixed feelings on the whole shebang, but I’m guessing roughly two minutes. Now, I don’t claim to understand all the arguments, but I’ve done my fair share (and then some) of analyzing, reanalyzing, agonizing and then analyzing some more. Did I mention my keen ability to overanalyze things?

The support for BHM looks something like this:

This is a sector of society and of history that is largely undersold and undertold by mainstream (read that, white) America.  

The accomplishments amongst the black community are vast and should be celebrated on a national level.

White History Month is every month. Dedicating 28 days to the educating and honoring of brave/intelligent/strong/articulate black Americans is the least we can do.

The only way to fight racism is to keep pointing to the positive black role models throughout history. What better way than promoting a national movement in the schools and communities?

The support against BHM looks something like this:

It allows for the sidelining of black history for the rest of the year. After all, American history is a veritable melting pot of race and cultural histories.

It smacks of white privilege. And also the almighty white savior complex.

There are opportunities galore to exercise implicit racial bias and race appropriation and microaggressions and a bunch of other fancy-schmancy words that basically suggest it’s time to sit down and shut up.

What I see as pros:

A dedicated time to honor some of history’s best and brightest and bravest...who also happen to be black; Such magnificent people such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, Rosa Parks, and Ruby Bridges should get a robust shoutout.

What I see as cons:
White families getting a small measure of feel goods for talking positively about black people for a month so they don’t feel so guilty for being afraid of black boys in hoodies the rest of the year.

Pigeonholing the history by sticking to the “biggies”. Yes, go ahead and celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, and Ruby Bridges. But, um, may I suggest branching out a wee bit? What about Hazel Scott and John Stewart? Phillis Wheatley? Daniel Payne? Henry “Box” Brown? They’re kind of a big deal too.

So, why with all the cons I’ve listed, do we (a transracial family) tread on this thin ice? Because Dr. Woodson worked hard to begin this project, dagnabbit, and I don’t think we’ve arrived at a place (yet) where it has outworn its usefulness. Unless of course, you can tell me (without Google Fu) who Martin Delany is.

Because I can’t.


*If you don’t already know, I operate purely from a place of levity and love and ragged, raw contemplation. If that’s not your bag, I get it. That’s why computers come with those little “X” buttons up at the top right. Close this tab and get on with your bad self.