Inside: Why is there a Black History Month?; He called my mom ‘nigger’; my ancestors came from Africa, India, Turtle Island, Ireland/England and…; Nickelodeon observes; Disenfranchised young white people.
I Huffington-Posted my way to this the other day:
I haven’t gotten any bites for guest bloggers so I guess I’ll write about it myself. Please click that link for it is most eye opening. Let me summarize it for you, though.
Asking the Question
It’s a collection of tweets saying, “There’s a Black History Month. Why isn’t there a white history month? #racist #racism #reverseracism #whitehistorymonth”.
If you want to save yourself from my rambling just go here:
Some of those are legitimate queries, by which I mean seeking information/knowledge. It’s never wrong to ask why and to question authority or tradition. I would much prefer that someone legitimately asks a question like that instead of bowing to the pressures of political correctness. It’s not automatically racist to ask the question.
There are, however, in those tweets a lot of people being straight up racist. One of them said, paraphrasing, “What are you complaining about? We brought you here.”
Another person tweeted, “There better be a White History Month in Africa”.
That is as racist as it is ignorant. But, that’s kind of the trap, though. It’s not about race, really. Anyone who has read my blogs for a while knows what I’m going to say next.
Being Black — all these black things — it’s not about race. It’s about ethnicity/culture. Black History Month is no more racist than St. Patrick’s Day or Irish American Month. Or Women’s History Month.
I’ve really been procrastinating on this, but I’ve been meaning to sit down with one of my uncles who has been researching our family tree. If I understand this correctly, my father’s mother’s mother( give or take a mother) was kidnapped from Bombay, India. My father’s father was part Native American, I think. And he, my uncle, took a break after the family tree trail led to England/Ireland.
I don’t know a whole lot about my mother’s side of the family yet, but if you see pictures you’ll know that the trail leads down many paths and peoples. And yet I’m black or African American.
It just so happens that due to that whole kidnapping and chattel slavery thing, which included a kind of cultural ethnic cleansing — black people were beaten, tortured or killed for speaking their language or making their music and then tortured or killed for attempting to learn to read English, ironically — we, African Americans have lost ties to our actual historical nationalities.
So, for example, I don’t know if I’m technically Kenyan- or Nigerian- or Gambian-American. Plus all the other modifiers if we were going to go that route. Africa is a huge continent with a skillion languages, ethnicities, cultures and so on. Black people have had to kind of reset our sense of self to our common experience, which has become our culture. Part of that experience included being abused based on the color of our skin or the color of the skin of anyone in our bloodline so that cultural ethnicity will always include (but not be limited to) the color of our skin.
A Poem about Rosa Parks
I was watching Spongebob Squarepants this morning. So I could dvr “This Week” and not have to endure the commercials. During the commercial break between Spongebob episodes, there was a poem performed by the young, black teen star of a new musical high school sitcom.
She performs a poem about Rosa Parks, accompanied by some cool animation, images and typography.
I think that kids and young adults know who Martin Luther King, Jr. is and that he “had a dream”. They know who Rosa Parks is — some lady who didn’t want to give up her seat to a white guy. They know that Barack Obama, a black man, is POTUS. They know that Will Smith has starred in movie blockbusters and is hosting the Kid’s Choice Awards 2012. They know that there were two black guys and a lot of other ethnic folk in “Fast and Furious 5: Fast Fistfuls of Furiosity”. And they know that every which way they turn there’s some black people either being successful, calling things racist, or being over-represented on the news killing each other or otherwise doing petty and/or lethal criminal activity.
Name 5 black historical figures(that means pre-1980s). Go!
I thought I would point out the disparity in our exposure to European history and greatness and the ignoring of African and African American (and other) history and greatness. But — and I do NOT mean this as an insult — today’s generation isn’t big on knowing things. I’ve had a handful of conversations in which young people have balked at the importance of remembering facts. I mean, why store up historical trivia in your brain when you can look it up on Wikipedia and Google? And why look up anything on Wikipedia unless there’s an immediate need for it? Otherwise, how is it relevant?
So you’ll see videos and maybe even reporting about young Americans not knowing basic historical facts. Period. Our history is often more of a general impression, like remembering a movie, than knowledge. But still:
- Matthew Henson
- Dr. Charles Drew
- Lewis Latimer
- Mary McLeod Bethune
- Nat Turner
- Marcus Garvey
- Althea Gibson
- Booker T. Washington
- The Talented Tenth
- Medgar Evers
- Tuskegee Airmen
- Tuskegee Experiment
- Black Wall Street
- Crispus Attacks
- Sally Hemmings
- Jesse Owens
- Garrett Morgan
Those are a few names off the top of my head and, frankly, I’d have to bone up on them in order to have an intelligent explanation or conversation about them. But still. (And to be totally honest, if you gave me a comparable list of Hispanic(?) Americans I’d have to admit ignorance.)
But let me see if I can break this into two questions.
1. Why was Black History Month created?
I would say that it’s in acknowledgement of the brutal, legitimized segregation and racism that was prominent up until the late 60’s. Remember. 1976, when Black History Month became an observance, was only, like, 6 to 8 years after the peak of all of that evil. That’s about the time when society came to a tacit consensus that, hey, hating black people and trying to squash them isn’t right. At the very least, it shouldn’t be written into our laws.
We, as a society, were experimenting with living and working with one another in a new era of race relations. We went from being declared as 3/5ths of a human being, to inferior human beings, to separate but “equal”, to an awkward combination of integrated and segregated.
2. Why do we still need one?
By the way, when we talk about today’s generation’s concept of knowledge, I mentioned the Jim Crow era the other day. There were at least two white people in the room who asked me to remind them what that was all about. “I heard about it in school, but…”
Young people today don’t have quite as much racial baggage, although I think we’re replacing it with socio-economic baggage. Plus now you’ve got young white people who never have and would never think of themselves as being inherently superior to anyone based on genetics. They or their parents never owned slaves. They go to school with people of varied backgrounds. Their friends and teammates are incredibly diverse.
Of course, many go home or to church in a very segregated community. Real estate and property values say a lot. But then again, I can’t assume that all white folks are comfortably middle class. It’s a still a thing, though.
A “Nigger” Story
Late 1980’s. My mom was driving me home from Summer Camp. I had a scholarship of some sort to go there, I think. We were in Dundalk, making a left from Merritt Blvd. on to Sollers Point Rd. to head back to Turner Station. My mom stopped short at a crosswalk to let a family cross the street; white man, woman and one or two kids.
He looked at us with disdain, looked at my mom and said, “Goddamn niggers!”
She didn’t say anything. I didn’t say anything. I was 13 or 14 years old, I think. We were quiet the rest of the way home. That’s how it was back then, though. Anger and hatred on sight because we were black. Like their life would be great and they’d be wealthy jet setters living the dream if only it weren’t for all us niggers running around ruining their sh*t. Overt racism was still kind of okay, as long as you weren’t running for public office. Then you had to be more subtle about it and use code words to play on stereotypes and fears.
But it’s 2012
It’s not the late 1980’s anymore, though. Overt racism exists, of course, but it’s not really considered okay. A lot of the news stories about racism today are mostly about people saying ignorant things or using stereotypes. They aren’t walking around saying or thinking “white power”. They’re using the word nigger, but mostly emulating what they hear from hip hop artists. They’re dressing in black face at parties. They make statements that imply that black people are making out like bandits at the cost of hardworking white taxpayers.
Do we need it?
I’m not hung up on Black History Month, per se. Do we NEED it. Eh. Not really. I”m not saying it should go away. But we need it the same way we need a Little Italy or Chinatown in every major city. I think it’s great for people to celebrate their own identity and ethnicity and to know their history, especially if it’s done in an inclusive way. But seeing how it’s dealt with on TV and the media, it’s trite.
You’ll see the same historical figures mentioned every year. The same benign, over-simplified presentations with no meaningful context.
The next person to quote “I have a dream” when speaking of MLK, Jr. should have his or her mouth washed out with a bar of deferred dreams.
When is White History Month?
Meanwhile, young white people are feeling overwhelmed by minorities. And white people won’t be the majority population for too much longer. That’s already the case in some cities and states.
And let’s be honest here, since white people are the majority population, have the vast majority of political power and wealth, and have had a history of abuses and oppression, you can pretty much pick on white people and get away with it.
Life is complex. People are complex. Some of the tweeters said, “Where’s White History Month? We’ve done some pretty great things, too.”
No doubt. But among those pretty good things there’s a LOT of genocide and evil. Done supposedly in the name of God, too. If Africa had a White History Month it would have to be filled with exploitation, raping of the land and people, Apartheid and generally sh*tty behavior toward one’s fellow man and woman on a global scale.
America is great in many ways. Worthy ideals. Yee haw. But it was built on stolen resources and the backs, the bones, and the endless pain and suffering of a lot of poor and/or black and brown people. I’m not saying we should be hateful and spiteful. I’m saying that we need to be real and keep things in perspective. We became the largest and strongest economy in the world based on — here’s a euphemism for you — “cheap labor”.
Look at photographs of Congress. Look at photos of the legislators of any state. Look at photos of CEOs and such. It’s ironic that a lot of white people feel disenfranchised. Or maybe not. The Tea Party (older white population) is, more or less, concerned about the size and power of government. The Occupy Movement (younger white population) is, more or less, concerned about the influence of corporations on our government and in our lives.
I don’t care who you are. $30,000 a year for college tuition is a disabling amount of money unless you’re very wealthy. Think about aging and having insufficient health insurance. That can be brutal.
So, as a friend said. White History Month is every month because it’s assumed that America was a white thing. A white, male thing, really. You are taught the history of the majority population and culture. Even that is often pretty one dimensional, though. So every other month is Sterile, Disney-ized White History Month.
But again, blackness isn’t a race thing. It’s an ethnicity thing. So if you’re going to be offended by Black History Month, make sure you’re offended by “Kiss me, I’m Irish” T-shirts. Or Italian, Indonesian, Thai, Chinese, Japanese, Russian or Caribbean street fairs.
We’re not celebrating the color of our skin or whatever your definition of race is. We’re celebrating our cultural heritage and the contributions that came out of it.
- March is Irish American Heritage Month.
- October is Italian American Heritage Month.
- German American Day is October 6th so some cities celebrate German American Heritage during the month of October. Plus Oktober Fest and all that.
- May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.
- I think June is Russian American Heritage Month in cities with large Russian communities.
- Confederate History Month is in April in the states that celebrate it.
Then I got tired of Googling. Heck. Go here. I’ve copied it to the beginning of this blog, too:
But let’s say there was a White History Month? What would be its focus? And what would you want taught?