shenanigans on black history month

January 19, 2009

If today is a national holiday dedicated to Martin Luther King Jr. and tomorrow is Obama’s inauguration (probably soon-to-be Barack Obama Day), then why the hell are we wasting our time keeping February as Black History Month?

Black History Month started in 1926 as “Negro History Week,” a celebration of advancements placed in the first week of February because of both Lincoln and Fredrick Douglass’ birthdays. Despite the obvious irony in rejoicing black history when drinking fountains would be separated for another 40 years, the month chosen is flawed in several ways. Firstly, who the fuck is Fredrick Douglass now? Yes, he was an abolishinist who spread the word of equality for all and–as the first African-American to be elected a Vice Presidential candidate (1872)–is undoubtedly a historically important predecessor to Obama, who is he to Americans today? We might learn the name Fredrick Douglass while studying American history, but his image is far less inspirational to modern African-Americans than, say, Rosa Parks or Tupac. This is because we can’t handle what really happened on a case-by-case basis so we need to idolize personalities that represent the movement, embody the idea and whose very image speaks about the cause. No one is airbrushing Douglass’ likeness on the backs of their denim jackets, but tomorrow morning, I guarantee I will see Obama t-shirts on the Blue Line.

So if we’re all about creating a hyper reality of the Civil Rights Movement and dumbing down the facts to entice more interest, wouldn’t it be best to alter our declaration of the most “important” month to the plight of black Americans to something a little more modern? With Fredrick Douglass’ legacy subsequently picked up by more-identifiable figures with birthdays in other months–and Lincoln’s birthday linked up with Washington’s to make the very un-black history-esque Presidents Day–February is irrelevant to black history and the possibilities for a new designated commemorative time period are endless. We could take into consideration other important events in black history: The Civil Rights act of 1875 was signed in March (also the month Notorious B.I.G. was murdered), the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was enacted in July and Obama’s birthday is in August.

Or–and I know this is a huge stretch–but why don’t we just always remember the history of a people we took away from their continent, sold, raped and forced into slavery only to sort-of let them be free but not really because of ignorance and fear for another hundred years until we finally said you can’t discriminate on the basis of skin color but now we’re so culturally alienated from each other that we have to set times aside where we can ponder on the horror we hath wrought with smiles on our faces?

Yeah didn’t think so.


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