I’ve had growing cynicism around the celebration of Black History Month. Black History Month is taught in February, our shortest month, seems to scream: remember what you were instead of remember what you are. Black History Month is not an advancement, but reparations would be.
The other day I wrote this status update on Facebook in jest: “Happy Black History Month. Please don’t forget to leave your Timberlands out so the ghost of Harriet Tubman will visit and fill them with Martin’s Dream and Obama’s Change. Maybe if we are real real good this year she will get Meek and Kanye kicked off of Twitter.” The year before that I made some a crack about James Earl Jones visiting good Black boys and girls for Black History Month and leaving them peanuts.
I’ve had growing cynicism around the celebration of Black History Month. The celebration of Black History Month should be about the achievements and ethos of Black culture across the diaspora. Yet what Black History Month often amounts to is a retelling of Harriet Tubman and Fredrick Douglass. The collective American narrative around how Black History Month is taught in February, our shortest month, seems to scream: remember what you were instead of remember what you are.
Black History Month is often taught with three topics as the primary discussion pillars: Slavery, The Civil Rights Movement, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The conditioning messages are about integration, reconciliation, and nominal Black achievement (see look your people made the Cotton Gin!). This uppity Negress takes issue with the Black History Month curricula for significant reasons. The primary flaw with how we approach Black History Month lies in how we continue to talk around the actual subject. Sure, we want to focus on Black Futures. HEY LOOK WHAT WE’VE CREATED AND CONTINUE TO CREATE MORE THAN THE COTTON GIN! More than the measure of what we can create or did create is the conversation concerning reconciliation.
Reconciliation is a conversation most folks like to have while evoking the name of Martin Luther King, Jr. We talk about loving our neighbor, peaceful protest, and acting right. Black History Month has yielded celebrations for over five decades and, yet, in one form or another, racial intolerance in the United States has been consistent and more overt in many ways. Our approach to Black History Month, Black history, and where the Diaspora fits within the context of American history keeps the public deluded about the true state of Black America.
So is there a solution?
Black History Month is not an advancement, but reparations would be. Black History Month gets categorized with our first Black President. These things are what the complancent who aren’t interested in doing anti-racist work point to when inequality and suffering are pointed out. “Hush now! We are post-race, you have a whole month where we celebrate you, and what about Barack?!” We shouldn’t be talking about reconciling or celebrating with a Nation that refuses to repair the harm it has caused. Reparations aren’t easy. They come with a cost and make us uncomfortable, as any attempt to disengage from pathologically abusive behavior can be.
So 40 acres and a mule will make this better?
You can keep your forty acres, your mule, and your antiquated views on reparations. The reparations I am talking about are to build around a bold shift to provide economic policies that give Black Americans the resources they need to rebuild their communities, ensure the health and growth of their families, and engage in society with equitable footing. I’m talking about reparations as a form of structural change. The United States through systemic oppression has underinvested in the well-being of Black America.
About this point you may be screaming “but what about Affirmative Action?!” Go ahead and file that in the same category as Black History Month and our first Black President. The Black Youth Project 100 (BYP100) has outlined just the sort of transformative changes we need. BYP100 recently launched their “Agenda to Build Black Futures,” which points to necessary work we all have to do. Is the BYP100 agenda ambitious? Yep! Is it necessary to bring needed change through public policy? You bet your Black History Month it is.