Reclaim Black History
In this country “American” means white. Everybody else has to hyphenate. –Toni Morrison
No, you really shouldn’t have, America. When I was younger, you shouldn’t have made me actually believe that Black History Month is a special and celebratory thing. You shouldn’t have made me associate the shortest month of the year with Black excellence. A month! One whole month. 28 long days, sometimes 29. I understand, though. I understand that the very notion of a “Black History Month” cracks at the weight of its own implications. I understand that buried in its chivalric assertion and generous endeavor, is a familiar code of erasure and limitation where Blackness is concerned.
To be separated from American history implies that it is somehow different from rather than the legacy of American history. How, though, is the history of the people whose free labor erected such a nation separate–and limited to one month of reservation–from the overall history of the country? How is it that we are taught (Whites and Blacks alike) about Black excellence in the month of February with the dangerous implication that such cases are anomalies versus a standard attainable for anyone to achieve?
I could go on with such questions on the other side of consciousness now that I’m no longer that boy; however, the answer to most, if not all, of them would be the same: White supremacy. And the more we allow this malignancy to plague our minds, the more we will believe that Black excellence and success comes when we embrace the American dream and pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. We will continue to believe that Blackness comes with a list of things that one must do in order to avoid being a victim of racism, classism, and/or police brutality. If you are a conscious person, you know that there is no formula to avoid such misfortunes. There are, however, those of us who can’t be tricked into believing that there is a “right” way to act to prevent power structures from annihilating (more literal than not) our Blackness.
To act right? To be professional? By whose standards do we determine these things? I hope that answer came to you easily because the standard in America was not set with people of color in mind. In fact, much of our judicial system has come to be what it is today because of the injustices against people of color and, still, it is not to their advantage. Yes, addenda have been made. Yes, this definitely isn’t the america of the 1800s. No conscious Black person is implying that nothing, wholly, has changed. Though we are saying that a lot of things have stayed the same. The language and rhetoric are the same. No? Listen closely. Actively listen to the news; read the articles printed daily. See how they describe you. How does it make you feel? Do you embrace the tropes (e.g., thug, rioters, criminal, immoral) encoded in the language? If you lay down the romanticized American Dream for one moment (it will be there once you are done, I promise) you will see how much of the language of this country still decodes to limit, silence, and erase Blackness.
So, really, you shouldn’t have, America. Black History is not a month. Black History is YEARS. Black History is American History. Literature reflects this. Politics reflect this. Economics reflects this. The fact that I, a Black man in America, am writing this reflects that Black History is American History.