“Negro History Week” was conceived in 1926, and within the past eight generations, this single week has grown to a month-long international celebration, focusing on Africans throughout the diaspora. Somehow, all of the progressive ideas stalled out in the 1970s, and many communities are still drinking the same Kool-Aid, still telling and doing the same old things. I would like to take time and move this month expediently forward into new ways of thinking, answering some lingering questions and raising a few in an effort to spark dialogue so we can break the chains of internalized oppression.
“Why do we get the shortest month of the year?”
In 1926, Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History chose to have “Negro History Day” in February because it marked the birthdays of President Abraham Lincoln and the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass. “Black History Month” was established in 1976 at Kent State University by the Black United Students organization. In 1987 the idea spread to the United Kingdom, and Canada joined in 1995, which propelled the celebration into the international arena. Also during the 1990s the word “black” was replaced with “African-American.”
“Why is there no White History Month?”
Because no one has created one! We have Women’s History Month in March, Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month in May, Hispanic History Month in September and Native American History Month in November. I hear this same complaint about the absence of “White History Month,” and I have yet to hear anyone say, “No, you can’t do that!” However, I am interested to see what it would look like, what month is chosen, what is taught and who is going to be honored. More importantly if and when it is established, I want to see some far northern and eastern ethnic Europeans in the mix, because I have some cool-as-ice Lithuanians girlfriends looking for annual representation too.
Folks are always going back and forth about “the whites” vs. “the blacks.” There is just so much more to explore. There is no time to be wasting our energies comparing ourselves to others. So, let me go beyond and break down a few myths and address some conversations before I slam this microphone down.
“We were all slaves!”
There is a major difference between being a “slave” and being “enslaved.” Enslavement is a state of mind, as opposed to being a slave, which is a state of the body’s subjugation to unpaid servitude. The Africans bought, sold and traded between the 13th and 19th centuries of the transatlantic slave trade were prisoners of war, not slaves.
Some, not all Europeans nations, along with all three of the major Western religions, played substantial roles in human trafficking. To understand why Africans sold other Africans into slavery, you must examine the state of pre-colonial Africa. Until the “peculiar institution” of slavery in America, the world had not seen a slavery system that involved perpetual slavery, in which people’s children and grandchildren were enslaved property long before they were born.
Furthermore, not everyone came to America as enslaved. There were folks like my Trinidadian ancestral grandfather, who came on his own as a free man in search of work as a skilled laborer.
Speaking of “his”-story, women are almost totally left out. The month is filled with events honoring great dead male African-American leaders, yet most times these programs are entirely orchestrated by women. Where are the conversations about the National Association of Colored Women? The NACW was founded in 1890s and also inspired the creation of the NAACP a decade later.
Where are the conversations about Zora-Neal Hurston, Alice Walker, Shirley Chisholm, Barbara Jordan and other women who elevated feminist thought to include all marginalized women throughout the world?
Some folks act like heterosexuality is the only thing happening. Where are the conversations about gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual and queer identities in the African-American community? When are we going to have real talk about all the harm we caused one another with our own brand of sexism, misogyny, abuse, rape and violence against women and children?
This is why I can’t stand Black History Month. Like Fannie Lou Hammer said, “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.”
I, too, am sick and tired of all the complaining, victimization, watering down, sugar coating and sweeping under the rug. But most importantly, I can’t stand the lack of progressive thinking!
I love my heritage, culture and language, and I look forward to wearing my jazzy African regalia yearly. I know we can turn this around, so everyone can walk away from African-American History Month feeling rejuvenated, educated and inspired to embrace and celebrate life daily.
I know this can be done because “I can’t” also means “I control all negative thoughts.” I have just drawn you in with a negative statement and have fed you some good, positive loving.