In these days of our annual Black History Month,
I find myself struggling to find something relevant to say. It
seems many if not most of us are, more or less, in a malaise
about our own history. A rich, poignant and often sad legacy of
triumphs and wrongs, the history of black people in America is
one we think we know, but is always richer and deeper than we
think. That’s likely because so much of our history goes
unreported or under-reported, first and foremost by ourselves.
Our legacy is largely one of arts—music, dance, sports,
preaching—but the value, the potential, of the written word
often goes under-appreciated. The fact is, many if not most of
us simply do not read. I don’t mean can’t read, I mean don’t
read. Those of us who do read simply don’t read enough and
simply don’t read enough of the important works.
Ours is a largely oral tradition. We listen to stories told from the village elder—from the pulpit. Many of us do not read our Bibles, do not understand much of what we believe or why we believe it, and know almost nothing about the history of the African American church. We’re simply here. With the TV on, running hot day and night. Our culture seems homogenous because, from a very early age, we plant our kids in front of the TV and wander off, abandoning them to what the world thinks and what the world beleves in their most formative years. It’s a shameful evolution, but it’s one we’re stuck with because that’s how many if not most of us, ourselves, were raised, abandoned to TV’s all day. Our sense of reality was formed by those images and characters, and the society we’ve evolved into is a product of that conditioning.
We simply don’t know ourselves. We don’t know where we came from our why.
Mother Bethune: American educator Mary McLeod Bethune, president of the National Council of Negro Women, supervises a game of Chinese checkers for two black soldiers and a host of admirers.
Polarizing And Divisive
In 1915, Dr. Carter Godwin Woodson, a Harvard scholar, noticed
the accomplishments of Black Americans were being ignored in
history books. He began to write African Americans into the
nation's history, and established the Association for the Study
of Negro Life and History (now called the Association for the
Study of Afro-American Life and History). He founded the Journal
of Negro History a year later, and also wrote the well-known
book, The Mis-Education of the Negro, in 1933. Beginning in
1926, Woodson launched Negro History Week on the second week of
February so all Americans could reflect on the history and
contributions made by African Americans. He chose this time
because it marks the birthdays of writer Frederick Douglass and
President Abraham Lincoln, two men who greatly influenced the
black population. In the 1970s, the celebration was expanded to
include the whole month.
Black History Month was created to educate and inform the majority class about not only the richness of our culture but of the many wrongs the majority class have perpetuated over the centuries. Which must be, I imagine, a turn-off for most white folk. The problem with race and popular media is this: in most every “black” movie or “black street” music CD you'll see or hear, there is some level of hostility directed towards whites. Now, were I a white male, I certainly wouldn't want to spend eight bucks to go see a film in which I am made to feel guilty about things I had nothing to do with, and prejudices I don't actually have. That is my pet peeve with a lot of black film and black comedians: it's all White People Bashing, and it limits our opportunities.
Rather than educate and inform white America, Black History Month, I imagine, can be a groan-inducing turmoil for them, many of whom might rightly complain, “We don’t have Italian History Month or Irish History Month!” Rather than foster understanding and enlightenment between the races, Black History Month just as often polarizes, many whites experiencing a reflexive suspicion that the month—by virtue of its being a “black” holiday— is somehow hostile toward them. I presume many if not most whites, therefore, simply tune all of this business out. In fact, here in Colorado, no network affiliate here has run ANY Black History public service spots this month AT ALL. None. I’ve seen a few on a couple of the cable nets, and, in these waning moments of Black History Month, I am now seeing major networks spitting out the odd Black History Month PSA orphan. But the local stations here, the NBC, CBS, ABC and Fox affiliates—NONE of them have invested a single dollar in recognizing this annual event, leaving all of that up to their network feeds (who, as I said, are doing little or nothing themselves).