Black History Month, 2019
Well, here we are again. It’s February, in the middle of winter, in the shortest month of the year. It always seemed like a real kick in the teeth to designate February as the Black History Month. I mean, why not June? Or August? Although history shows us that February was selected in part because of the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglas, as well as the designation of “Negro History Week” in 1926, it still would have been nice to move it up a few months when the weather is more agreeable. That’s a minor squabble, of course— it’s great that we have a month where we can look back on the achievements and contributions of Black Americans.
I grew up in a predominately white suburb in New Jersey, and every February— like clockwork— a few of the white kids would ask me the same question: “There’s a Black History Month, but why isn’t there a White History Month?” I remember telling my parents about this, and the answer they gave me was one that I would repeat throughout my grade school years: “Because EVERY MONTH is white history month.”
It’s unfortunate that we even need a month like this. The only reason we do is because we still live in a day and age where the pervasive ignorance of white supremacy mythology is still responsible for stunting the growth of our society. Granted, it’s an ideology that finds itself in its death throes in 2019, but like a zombie it’s a dead thing that still finds a way to dig itself up looking to eat the brains of sensible, innocent people. So of course we need to constantly remind a very loud and petulant minority of people that this behavior is not only wrong, but it’s just plain stupid.
How do you right the wrongs of centuries of bad behavior? Through education, of course. That’s with the understanding that some people can’t, and don’t want to be, educated. There was a time when people wanted to learn, wanted to evolve and grow. In the age of Trump, however, it seems like people believe that merely SAYING that they are smart is enough. It’s not. Some people like to SAY that they are not racist, when they are. It’s very easy to make proclamations that one hopes would give people the impression that they are better than they seem— maybe even better than you. The problem is that people like that are so ignorant that they don’t realize that simply saying a thing doesn’t make it so. Folks going out of their way to tell everyone how smart and not-racist they are has the opposite effect of what they want to achieve.
So for this February, in the year 2019, I would like to acknowledge that our society is showing signs of a slow evolution. I am glad that acts of overt racism and bigotry are being very publicly, vehemently, and roundly condemned. This is a big difference from the world that I grew up in. For example, one of the big news stories today is that of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s yearbook pictures from the 1980s resurfacing.
Some people seem to be in a bit of shock, not just from the blackface, not just from the KKK costume (at this time, no one seems to know which is Northam), but the fact that this happened in the 1980s. I can tell you as someone that grew up in the 1980s that this does not surprise me. I remember people saying some REALLY stupid shit in the 80s. I remember people talking about how fake The Cosby Show was because there was no way a Black doctor and a Black lawyer could be married with kids in a nice house— that’s not a joke, people were REALLY saying that shit. And I can’t tell you how many times I was told that I was “so articulate.” That gave birth to another line that my parents handed down to me as a response: “As opposed to what?” I would ask. Some folks, believe it or not, would answer: “Well, you don’t talk like the other ones.”
It’s funny— Facebook is amazing in that I’ve been followed by quite a few people that I went to high school with. You know what’s even funnier? How many of those same people let their racism show, and got offended when it was pointed out to them. One woman I knew back in high school unfollowed me for calling her out when she said that “the only people that complain about racism are black people!”. And mind you, I didn’t yell at her, I didn’t curse at her, I just told her a story about how when my mother was a kid, she could only go rollerskating on Sundays because that was when the rink was for “coloreds only.” That was considered a “rant,” and she unfollowed me. I consider that a win, and far from a loss. I think if Facebook has done anything good, it’s helped to flush the toilet of useless, ignorant people from our lives.
Speaking of social media, that’s an area where we’ve been able to shed the light on a lot of behavoirs that have previously either been ignored or hidden. Some people will say that “things have gotten so much worse.” I don’t agree with that. I think things have always been how they are— the one thing that has changed is that most of us have cameras and a means to broadcast video in our pockets. There’s TONS of video being captured that show people at their worst. There is power in broadcasting events like these. No one had a clue about the situation in the South until those first images of firehoses being turned on Black women and men were shown on national television. The Civil Rights movement went into full swing after the images of Emmet Till’s open casket where shown in Jet magazine. Media has always been useful in shining a light on the injustices in our society, and the 21st Century is no different. Today, we see police officers killing unarmed Black folks. Today, we see white supremacists marching while yelling “JEWS WILL NOT REPLACE US!” Today, those images will cost people their jobs, and alienate people from their communities. There is no anonymity in bigotry anymore.
Yeah, we are seeing a lot of shitty behavior, but it’s not all bad. In fact, we are seeing a lot of great things happening. In a world where we are seeing record numbers of People of Color winning elections across the country, we can say that things are getting better. In a world where our entertainment is slowing starting to reflect our society, we can say that things are getting better. In a world where the backlash against bigoted nonsense is swift, decisive, and effective, we can say that things are getting better.
Yes, we STILL have a lot of work to do, but change never comes overnight. Every generation seems to get smarter and better about these things. We have a ways to go, but as long as we keep moving forward we will continue to see a change for the better.