Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Don't Sleep

Like many folks, I have a love/hate relationship with this time of year.

February not only brings freezing temperatures, it also brings the mandated focus by American schools and corporations on Black History Month. Sadly, when I typed "Black History Month" I sighed a little bit out loud.

It's not that I don't see the need for Black History Month, I do. It's not that I'm stuck on some colorblind trip where I think there is no need for a focus on the contributions black people have made to this world and country. I think there is a huge need for that kind of stuff. Nah, the problem is I'm really discouraged and bored with how we do Black History Month these days.

If Black History month was Thanksgiving dinner, Martin Luther King would be the turkey, Oprah would be the candied yams, Slavery would be the stuffing and President Obama would be the sweet potato pie. Random observations about little-known, important figures in Black History would be the collard greens and green beans, and they'd receive roughly the same amount of attention as those vegetables do at the Thanksgiving feast. We'd have this dinner every year and every one would go home full, but not particularly healthy.

We've gotten too comfortable with this month. When Carter G. Woodson began Black History Week he was hoping to combat the lies being spread about black people by the white power structure. It wasn't just about a rote recital of facts, it was about using those facts to expose the lie of black inferiority. It was about challenging popular assumptions, not just providing us with a good feeling.

Sadly, things don't changed. Today we don't learn much new information. And yes, I understand that anybody with a true desire to learn about Black History can go down to the library any time of the year, but I also understand that's not going to happen in most cases. Rather, people are going to take what they're given, and that's all they are going to get.

Unlike some black folks, I don't see the failure of Black History Month as a justification for scrapping it. Instead, I see it as a call to arms for those of us with children, those of us who plan to have children, and those of us who interact with children. Hell, even if you don't deal with kids, you can still spread your knowledge to adults. We need to examine the longstanding lies that still have power in our society and see how the history of black folks can expose those falsehoods.

My brother recently gave me a book about blacks* in the Bible that goes a long way to doing that in one area. The book is called "Beyond Roots: Blacks in the Bible." It's a small and simple book that draws heavily from the Bible to make its points. It breaks down the genealogy of many biblical figures and teaches folks who to understand the ancestry of biblical figures. It shows the involvement of black folks in the world of the Bible right from creation. I've found it to be quite an interesting book with a wealth of information that I was never exposed to despite the fact that it was right in front of my face.

For example, King David had a black grandmother and great-grandmother. He married a black woman, who later gave birth to King Solomon. Moses was married to a black woman, and Joshua and Caleb had black ancestors. Ethiopians worshippped God at the same time as Semetic Jews, and have a longtanding tradition of Judaism. They were also some of the earliest converts to Christianity. That directly contradicts the modern myth that black folks' only connection with Christianity comes from slave masters, and the book also notes that blacks were given the utmost respect in the ancient world.

In my opinion, that's the kind of information that children need to learn. Information that challenges the accepted truth in our society that black people are inferior human beings. This mindset is insidiously ingrained in our children through active and passive means, and it's the main reason why so many adults today have such screwed up ideas about black people. I think we have let Black History Month be hijacked until it's become a silly recitation of minutiae that has no real power. But, there is always power in a people's history, particularly if we expose the totality and importance of that history.

We just have to wake up.



Redbonegirl97 said...

Every year I say the same thing to my children about black history. Last year the were able to take part in an African American Academis Challenge. I met a man there that told them about 14 black men who were Presidents before George Washington. No one could believe until I made them research it. They found information that tied into what the gentle man had told them. I have a few books that have waaaay more than MLK, Malcolm and Rosa Parks, not to mention the other stories about them.


Big Man said...

It's good you're giving them that foundation. Lord knows they won't get it in school.

Denise said...

This reminds me of the complaint that I had on this year's MLK Day, now a day of service. My job sent us to work with another non-profit that was doing a day of service cutting down parasitic trees in the state park.

The problem for me was that the parish that we were doing the work in is currently being sued for making up a law that would effectively prevent Black people from living there. This is also a parish where Black people avidly avoid driving through.

I find that these times that we're supposed to be honoring people who fought for Black people's rights tend to get turned into days were we talk about nice things, and do things that make everyone feel good about themselves, even though the message is completely lost.

Raving Black Lunatic