Time for a rant. I’m so ready for this. It’s been building up inside of me for a long time and I finally have the excuse to let it all out.
The title of this post is quite misleading; a lot of the things in this rant aren’t actually up for discussion. Without further ado, let’s go:
BLACK HISTORY MONTH
I can’t speak much for America (since I am neither natively American nor have ever experienced it there) but I’m just going to speak from the POV of a Black-British Caribbean teenage girl, experiencing it in England.
Let’s start off with my personal opinion of this commemorative month. My ethos is pretty simple when it comes to this actually; I don’t like it. (I am aware this opinion is controversial, but I don’t care) I feel like it is very tokenistic and patronising. Like the Almighty Council of Whites sat down and said, “Aww, the dark folk are kicking up a stink about the past… let’s subdue them by giving them a month to commemorate their background.”
A month isn’t enough. I’m not saying that they should institute Black History Half-Year or Black History Century, but at the end of the day, how do you expect us to cram centuries worth of culture, background and history into 31 days?
It’s impossible. You can’t. Especially when what you WANT us to cram into that month is not the entirety of the truth. (But more on than in a minute).
I may not like it, but at the end of the day, if we’re going to have it then at least let it be commemorated properly and respectfully.
That’s the first problem – that the existence of this commemorative month is tokenistic and patronising.
Problem two: the reaction of white (and ignorant) people. Here are some of my favourite reactions:
- “What about White History month?” (Honey, every month of the year is White History month)
- “Why don’t we make it Multicultural Diversity Month?” (You make ANOTHER month of the year ‘Multicultural Diversity Month’, don’t get it twisted with ours, THANKS)
- “It sort of makes me feel a bit uncomfortable.” (I’m glad you feel that way. Our past was uncomfortable)
- “I don’t see why we need to commemorate things in the past.” (Hmmm… that’s funny, because, you commemorate the Holocaust, you commemorate Remembrance Day but, you want to ignore a part of history which not only was the building block for most largely-developed countries but also lasted a very long time and which people are still living with the repercussions of today? Hmmmm… Okay. Let me just… sip my tea…)
- “Don’t talk about the negative things… we just need to be positive about this whole thing.” (Yes but that’s probably not what my ancestors were saying when they were being beaten by yours in the cotton fields, so once again, let me… sip my tea…)
- “Things have changed now!” (*crickets chirp*)
And so on. I feel like I should dedicate an entire post to the racist and offensive opinions of small-minded White People. I love hearing some of the gems that some of them come out with. Really. They warm me at night.
So, problem number three with Black History Month is what it’s actually used (or not used) for. It seems to me that for the majority of the country, Black History Month is only that in name. It doesn’t actually change anything. There aren’t any national days or services or anything where it’s acknowledged. I find it very ironic how people are so willing to commemorate Remembrance Day out of respect for a war that lasted 4 years which STABILISED the foundations the country we live in, yet entirely overlook the events of a time almost 100 times as long, which BUILT the foundations of the country we live in. And don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying the sacrifices that any of those soldiers made weren’t commendable, and I’m not saying that it should have been made into a small thing. What I AM saying is that it isn’t fair that we as a nation (as a country with a White Male Supremacist-led government) want to pick and choose which events suit us most to commemorate.
The truth is, Black History makes people uncomfortable. To which I say, fantastic. Great. Get uncomfortable. It wasn’t a pleasant period of time and at the end of the day, its effects are still on the perpetual generations of black people, mixed people, people of colour in general. Who remained unscathed and actually benefitted from this regime? White people. It benefits them to keep their ‘reputations’ entirely untouched by simply pretending that those 300 years plus of history never actually happened. I’m sure it aids their consciences as well. After all, as I have heard so MANY DAMN TIMES, “my ancestors didn’t own slaves.” Okay, fantastic, so then WHOSE did?!
Furthermore (LOL I’ve always wanted to get that word into a blog post), the whole POINT of Black History Month is the re-education of narrow-minded curriculums and ignorants. We act like only four black people were influential and helped the world in any way. Black Historical Figures are comprised of more than Rosa Parks, MLK, Malcom X and Nelson Mandela. There were more than those four. (GASP. SHOCK. HORROR. OH NO. EVERYTHING’S BEEN THROWN UP IN THE AIR NOW!)
The problem I have is that people seem entirely comfortable in their ignorance. Last year, I had to fight for the commemoration of this month in my school (another problem – students shouldn’t be fighting for the recognition of something which is so important) and what happened was I got a WEEK – that’s right, a measly WEEK – in MARCH of the following year – another issue, Black History Month is OCTOBER not MARCH – to do assemblies.
Me. A student. Do assemblies.
Myself. A pupil. Educate the people who are supposed to be the educated.
So I was like, “You know what, I’m not happy, but I’ll roll with it.” What I decided to do was, since I go to a girl’s school, choose black influential women whom barely anyone ever spoke about or knew of. I also took care to choose people whose lives hadn’t had ‘happy endings’ so to speak; because really, that’s a mentality that needs to be broken. Not every black slave was freed and lived out the rest of their free life in happiness and peace. (That’s next in this rant). So I compiled my list and I was all excited and went to speak with the woman who was in charge of all this. I sat her down, told her my plan and she was like, “Hmm. Okay. Who are you planning to talk about?”
So I told her the names. And I KID YOU NOT she said,
“Well, I don’t know who they are so… maybe choose other people?”
I ended up settling with four mostly known women; Tina Turner, Maya Angelou, Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth. Great people, though not as obscure as I had wanted them to be. I wanted to prove a point; that we are only ignorant of the things we WANT to be ignorant of. The woman had made a conscientious choice to dismiss the people I’d chose because ‘she didn’t know them’. That is the whole point. If we keep exploring people we know, then we will never get any further.
Fourth (I think it’s four, I haven’t really been counting) problem; the mentality surrounding this month. Once again, it’s ironic how people are so willing to be sombre and silent in respect of the fallen soldiers – they accept their deaths with sadness – people are so careful about making jokes about Nazis to Jews – they recognise that the Jews’ predicament was serious and sensitive – but the instant slavery is mentioned, it is either made into a joke or tried to be made light-hearted.
Slavery and Black History is not light-hearted. Yes, they were some stories of happiness and victory; but not many. Yes, there were cases where people did escape, and live happily, but not many. Because let’s face facts here. It was not a nice time period.
Women were raped. Children were raped and abducted. Men and women alike were tortured. Black people as a race were animalised. Stereotypes flourished which still circulate today. (Black people and chicken? A stereotype dating back to segregation in America. Black fathers walking out on their baby mommas and children? A stereotyped instituted by slavery and escalated by the subsequent mentalities of indoctrinated black males. Dark skin girls being ugly and light skin girls being pretty? Started in slavery and was cultivated by the consequent self-hatred of dark skinned girls. Do you need more examples or are these enough?)
I tried to communicate this all in my final assembly in March on the Friday. It was entitled “The Unknown” and focused on the bare facts of slavery and the harsh reality. I thought it was important to touch on the stereotype thing, but also was necessary to throw in the whole ‘Stop using the N-Word’ thing, because that’s so important. It was also important, I noted, to mention that saying ‘Black’ or ‘White’ is not racist. However, saying ‘Coloured’ is mostly offensive and it’s not a readily accepted phrase. (Unfortunately, the woman whom I organised the assemblies with seemed to think that it was an entirely acceptable phrase to use, going so far as to imply the opposite; that ‘Black’ could be seen as offensive and ‘coloured’ was more politically correct.)
The whole point of the Month in general isn’t to shock people. It’s to make them AWARE. It’s to educate them. Because if we’re not educated about these issues then where are we? Back at square one.
My last problem is in the education systems in relation to the commemoration of this month. The whole point of schools is to educate the minds of youth. If you are supposed to be making us ‘socially aware’ (I think the phrase is) and ’employable people’ of the future, then that constitutes more than just academia and examinations. It constitutes a self-awareness and a racial awareness, especially for those students who are from ethnic minorities. We’re not taught how our colour affects our standing in the world socially; we find that out the hard way when we hear on the phone that our aunt had several bottles of Coke thrown on her out of a car window while walking home, with men shouting horrible, derogatory phrases at her, because she was black. We find out when we turn on the news and hear about yet more Black people that have been killed by police or in police custody, because of their race. We find out when we apply for jobs and we are told by our mothers to use the last name in our hyphenated surname, because ‘Nzeogwu’ looks too black, but ‘Johnson’ sounds less ethnic.
These are the things we should not be surprised to discover. We should be learning about this in schools during this month. We should be discussing these things. They are only a taboo because we have allowed them to become that. We can un-make this reputation if we educate ourselves and our children, and pray that enough are educated about it in the future that what we are experiencing now will not be so bad for perpetual generations.
It makes me sad that so few schools commemorate this month effectively. It makes me sad that so little people know about the past of Black History and are so quick to make ignorant comments; and yet know nothing enough to understand that the nonsense they are speaking is offensive.
Nothing’s really going to change. That wasn’t the point of this post, by the way. It was a rant. I won’t ask for things to change because I know they won’t.
I can only hope.
Sweet dreams everyone,