I respect, appreciate, and enjoy Black History Month (BHM) for what it stands for and all that it represents, but I can’t say I’ve ever really been 100% invested in it. That could be because of my 1stGen background, which often colors my view on all things related to race and culture. (Sidenote/Reminder: My parents are immigrants and throughout my childhood when I asked clarifying questions about American history they reminded me “That isn’t my history.”) It could also be that I never really got how it was celebrated in most public spaces – Seriously what significance does a Black gospel choir singing Amazing Grace or praise dancers doing lyrical numbers really have to Black History? I kind of get it, but why do you all love it sooooo much? But my nagging issue with BHM is that it doesn’t actually broadly focus on Black history, but is more of a celebration of African-American history. (And I pray that you know the difference, because I’m not planning to explain here. And also…. Google has all the answers you need like the difference between race, ethnicity, nationality, and culture.)
I’m not saying that only celebrating African-American history is wrong, it’s just exclusive. So imagine me growing up, being a Black child in America who wasn’t raised in African-American culture having to celebrate something that didn’t represent me and that I wasn’t educated on and therefore didn’t understand. Now imagine me being around a lot of White kids (and teachers) asking me questions they assumed I knew because I was Black. It was frustrating to say the least and reminded me that I wasn’t like all of the other Black kids. Therefore it felt like BHM wasn’t for me..it wasn’t my celebration. So BHM has always been challenging for me to fully invest in because I never understood why it couldn’t represent all of us. I imagine other African, West Indian, etc folks may feel the same – I haven’t formally done any research so who knows maybe it’s just me.
Now I can acknowledge that after some research I eventually learned that BHM is actually called African-American History Month in the United States and was created to “coordinate the teaching of the history of American blacks”. Done — all I needed was that clarification. But I still wonder is there a benefit to having a broader celebration?
- We all acknowledge that the US of A is a land of immigrants (voluntary and involuntary) from yesterday and today. We also acknowledge that in this country Black is Black and the bottom line is no one cares if you got here 200 years ago or last week – more often than not the way you are treated will be the same.
- You will often hear many African-Americans state “Our history didn’t begin with slavery”, yet when we talk about our history and have the opportunity to celebrate it – that’s pretty much as far back as we go. And I hear what you’re saying, “But Tina we don’t know which African country or culture we come from”; I know, but also who cares? Doesn’t that make it easier? Instead of having to scour the internet and books for information on your specific culture – you get to pick one or all of them. I would appreciate that option rather than attempting to become the expert on all things Nigerian.
- Also, we lose out by not acknowledging Blackness worldwide in our celebration, because we have some amazing, kickarse folks out there. And not only are you missing out, the next generation is too. Who/what am I talking about?
- Dido Elizabeth Belle (UK) – I’m obsessed with her – go see the film about her life.
- Alexandre Dumas (France) – How many of you knew that the man who wrote The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristowas Black?
- Queen Idia (Nigeria) – You knew you weren’t getting a list from me that didn’t include a Nigerian woman, don’t even act surprised. She was the first Queen Mother… look her up… she was awesome.
- Samori Ture (Guinea) – Don’t let them tell you we just allowed the Europeans to come in and colonize Africa. People fought… and it went down.
- Chief Cetshwayo (South Africa) – Again, we come from a long legacy of “don’t start none, won’t be none”. #LestWeForget
- Christianity in Ethiopia – PLEASE educate yourselves so you can stop referring to Christianity as “the white man’s religion”. Actually, we had it first.
- Haitian Revolution – And how it influenced/inspired Africans in America during slavery
I really could go on, but I’ll stop here. How many of us know these names? How many of us have heard or can share these stories with our young people? This is a part of who we are and we started long before we landed on these shores – we could do a better job of remembering that – not just during BHM but it’s a good place to start.
I’m not saying that BHM shouldn’t include African-American History – I’m just wondering if it makes sense to have a broader celebration. (For example: My church in Chicago has an amazing 4-week program that celebrates the journey of Black people – Part 1. Starts in Africa >> Part 2. Travels through the Caribbean/West Indies >> Part 3. US Southern States >> Part 4. The Civil Rights Movement – present day. All I’m saying is – it’s a solid blueprint.) If we want Black History Month to indeed be BLACK History Month then we should do a better job of incorporating and educating ourselves and others about who we were BEFORE we were enslaved &/or colonized and noting that we have accomplishments across the globe. BHM should celebrate and include Blackness everywhere and then maybe it will feel like a collective celebration for all of us who are here now.
Or not – and we could go back to acknowledging it as African-American History Month (like we’re supposed to). You can go ahead and get that Black Gospel Choir on the calendar for next year… and I’ll just sit over here and continue to mind my business. 🙂