The first day of February brings about mixed feelings for me, and for anyone who is genuinely interested in Black history. Be it slavery, post slavery, the Harlem Renaissance, the Great Migration or the Civil Rights era, I am into Black history and appreciate our great people.
What we should not be into is the sudden interest in Black history just because government or society grants our race with a special month (one that happens to be the shortest interestingly enough).
I am not being a pissy-fit; I appreciate the government’s action (since 1976) to acknowledge the Black history in America and those in the African diaspora. I am thankful for the progression: at one point Africans were not recognized as whole people and now there is a holiday!
(Historian Carter G. Woodson started Negro History Week in 1926 with its purpose to honor Black achievements and culture)
Last year I had an interview with Texas Board of Education trustee Mavis B. Knight and she definitively told me the upcoming textbooks for the 2012 school year were white-washed as a result of the numerous changes the board agreed upon (and she fought against). What use is Black History month when the state government is teaching this generation a White-washed history?
(If you are interested in hearing the interview, please tweet or email me. The Swift website is currently down)
Here I present a new way to view Black history month.
Instead of watching the TV laud over the same figures—MLK Jr, Dubois, Douglass, etc—how about applying their life lessons to present-day life.
The hangings, Jim Crow laws and other forms of institutional racism, and other things that follow racism we do not face, yet we, Black people, seem to have dropped the torch from our predecessors.
Frederick Douglass, who received no formal education, was born into slavery and later became a prolific writer and agent in the abolitionist movement; Booker T. Washington, another slave baby, later became a wonder orator and author, and leader of the Tuskegee Institute; these individuals triumphed over overt racism and repression by the state to become powerful leaders in Black community, leaving a deep print in American history.
How does this compare with today?
Since the 1980s, Blacks have led the stats in poverty, rounding off at 25% in 2009 (table 711). Degree holders for Blacks hover around 20% compared to the national average of 29%. Blacks are overly represented in the prison accounting to 40% of the population. 66% of Black children (fig.1) live in single-parent households. The statistics are dismal.
A few explanations have entered the realm of discussion, and possibly excused the numbers, including the ‘war on drugs’, which can explain the breakup of the Black family, the lack of Black male degree holders, and poverty rates. Such explanations cannot be discussed in this post.
Perhaps we can learn from our predecessors and those who fought and died for us and the things we take for granted. Certainly we can do better with the abundance of opportunities, and privileges—scholarships, free and reduced lunch in school, affirmative action, voting rights, infinite libraries, etc.–provided to us?
Now that you have the torch, what will you do?
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of Bab Adetiba. Check out his politcial and social commentary blog MindsAlike.