February means Black History Month. This is where we see various forms of media pay homage to historical African American figures, school children learn about The Underground Railroad and the Civil Rights Movement, and a series of panel discussions, documentaries, and the like analyze Black history through a modern lens. Museums and cultural centers display stunning works of Black arts, and for 28 days, Black American culture is proudly highlighted to a mainstream audience.
Black History Month is extremely important in domestic politics and society. For this month, we especially remember the trials and tribulations of our fallen ancestors, many of whom perished under draconian segregation practices and grotesque violence. Black History Month serves as a reminder for how far we’ve come in the fight for social equity.
However, some question it’s utility, whites and Blacks alike. For a segment of white America, Black History Month is counterproductive. They argue that if we wish to advance a racially equal society, we must move on from the past. They wish to silence the undeniable truth of this American nation; that for centuries America prospered off the backs of a marginalized community. These are the same folks who demonize President Barack Obama for daring to weigh in on the Trayvon Martin tragedy. These are the same folks who erroneously proclaim that racism no longer exists, and those who dare to talk about it are “racebaiters” or sufferers of white guilt. These folks are usually the most racist themselves, and sadly, they fail to realize it.
These are the folks that scare me. They scare me because they are unapologetically vocal. And, to the unsuspecting and unknowledgeable audience to which they pander, their words are cogent. What’s even more troubling is that these commentators are getting paid to advance a prejudice agenda. They make millions and millions of dollars to feed off of hidden racial tensions. Racism turns a hefty profit.
For some Black Americans, Black History Month is an intangible, ceremonial statement. A mere compromise meant to keep us content. A crumb on the table. Some of us argue that Black History Month lacks any deep or insightful relevance to the 21st century, and cite lapses in education as a prime example. Children are taught a romanticized version of the Black struggle; they are only given cursory glimpses into the remarkably complex and multifaceted truths about slavery and civil rights. Iconic figures like Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks decorate classroom walls during February, but throughout the rest of the year, their pictures are invisible.
The rise of current Black mainstreaming; i.e. hip hop, makes the problem even more confusing. Hip hop artists regularly berate each other, promote violence against their own, laud trapping and drug dealing as respectable hustles, and terrorize and objectify their women. Although I am an avid hip hop fan, I cannot deny that hip hop, at times, is uncomfortable. Hip hop artists rarely speak out against this characterization of hip hop, and when they do, their words are often conflicting. They usually state that hip hop is entertainment, and should not be taken too seriously. They also challenge parents to get more involved into what their children are listening to, and how their children are behaving.
Contemporary Black figures suggest that racism is an issue that should continue to be addressed because racism takes a different form to better fit into the 21st century. Racism is structural and institutionalized, hidden behind and in between bureaucracies and regulations. They argue that Black History Month should focus on this new reality of racism, although recognizing historical figures are important.
Clearly, Black History Month, through and through is a respectable recognition of how Blacks overcame severe racism throughout history. However, in 2014, as ideas are spreading rapidly through social media, it’s difficult to completely place Black History Month as an end-all-do-all for Black progress. And that’s why I launched the #BlackFutures campaign, as a way to better understand varying perspectives of Black History and what it means for this technologically advanced society in which we live.
Fluctuating demographics and the merging of cross-racial and cross-cultural groups in workplaces and college campuses reinvigorate perceptions of various groups. New ideologies are on the rise, and we’re using new terms to understand racial phenomenon. Words like colorism, (which investigates discrimination based on the lightness or darkness of one’s skin) is finding their way into racial dialogues. And it’s time we give these words voice within the Black History Month context.
Black History Month remains a significant inclusion in the domestic structure, but it must be renovated if we wish to continue towards a more equitable society.