This is a guest-post by Renee from Womanist Musings.
I was reminded via e-mail that February is black history month. A regular reader of my blog was astonished to find that I had not done the obligatory “celebration post” and instead posted what they deemed nonsense. Apparently this is a glaring omission on a blog that regularly deals with race.
The omission was quite purposeful on my part. At no time throughout the month will you find a post especially dedicated to the celebration of Black History month. I will continue to discuss race and the ways in which it intersects with all of the isms however, celebrating a false feel good month is not my idea of treating Blacks as equals in society.
Black History month gives people an excuse to claim tolerance and understanding, without doing any real work to change the ways in which the races interact. For a brief 28 days of the 365 that make up a year, people will briefly acknowledge the contributions of blacks and then return to privileging whiteness in every single social institution. Even while we are in the middle of said “celebration”, whites continue to complain about how racist Black History month is. “Imagine if you had a white month”, is what gets repeated continuously during the month of February, while the fact that every month, is white history month gets ignored.
The ironic part about the above statement is that Black History month is indeed racist, but not because there is no equivalent white history month. It is racist because it turns blackness into a mockery. If Black History and accomplishments were truly appreciated we would not need a special month to celebrate them; it would be integrated into our lives in the natural course of events. Black history month continues to exist because of racism.
If every month were black history month, I would know the nations of the slaves the way I know the nations of the colonizers. If every month were black history month, I would know the faiths of Africa the way I know the faiths of Europe.
Black history month is a cookie, it is an addendum at the end of the history books. Until black history–and brown history, and yellow history, and red history– is as deeply woven into our consciousness and social fabric as white history, this month will be nothing but a token given to shut the loud black up.
Though initiated by the African Diaspora population, Black History month has become nothing more than a small cookie thrown at Blacks in an attempt to placate our desire for equal representation. Liberals wax poetically about how important our contributions have been to western society without ever critically engaging about the ways in which racism continues or the fact that whiteness is every bit as privileged as it always has been.
This year many point to the election of Barack Obama as an added reason to celebrate. While the election of Barack is historic, it does not change the daily lived experience of blacks across North America. Each generation we have seen exceptional Blacks break through the glass ceiling however, the masses continue to suffer daily from racism, and class exploitation.
It is further ironic that once again we are pointing to the achievements of a black male to justify “our celebration”. The erasure of the efforts of black women in the cause of liberation and justice has been commonplace in our discussions of black history. Most people when asked about the black civil rights movement of the 60’s will speak about the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Reverend Abernathy, or perhaps even Malcolm X, but few will think about the women “behind the movement” that worked tirelessly to ensure a better future for their children. In our “celebrations” blackness readily becomes conflated with masculinity thus once again propping up the black male patriarchy, while relegating the work of black women to secondary status and thereby reducing its importance.
I don’t feel that doing the obligatory post daily for 28 days will change anything; it will only highlight the fact that we remain a completely divided society without offering any concrete conclusions. I further refuse to provide an education in black history to those who expect that blackness, or anti-racism should be spoon fed to them on their timetable. Black History month is not controlled by the very peoples of the African Diaspora that it claims to celebrate.
My blog is about engaging in conversations and I believe that is the best approach to breaking down the walls that continue to divide us from one another. Pretending for one month out of twelve that there is a connection or that we somehow value contributions when we don’t, does not get us anywhere. So, to the next person who wants to wish me happy black history month, how about you skip it and instead spend the rest of the year working to dismantle privilege and deal with race critically.
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