2021 Black History Month Reflections…*
“Taking steps that lead to action, that result in change.” ~Dr. G
This year’s celebration of Black History Month hit me a little different this time around. Not that I do not think about and enjoy the fact that we highlight the achievements and success of Black and African diasporic people; I think I now ponder more about what Black History Month has become. Keep in mind, every February I prepare my mind for the year’s celebration, I become on high alert to see who is temporarily stepping up their efforts to celebrate Black History. Every year we see this rise in celebrating and acknowledging the Black/African American experience from various companies, organizations, schools/universities, businesses, etc. 2021 becomes even more on high alert with how the aforementioned are responding/reacting and celebrating this month due to last year’s protests and the many deaths that happened due to racially motivated violence, police brutality, and systemic oppression.
These days as an Assistant Professor in African American Studies, Black History Month is a day-to-day routine. As a matter of fact, I recently recall having a conversation with a couple of my colleagues about celebrating Black History Month. One asked, what should AFAM/AAS departments do to celebrate Black History Month? And I quickly responded with “we celebrate Black History Month 365, every semester, every academic year…we’re and AFAM department that’s what we do naturally.” As a kid, Black History Month was all about coloring pictures of historical figures (i.e. Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, Frederick Douglass, Malcolm X, Matthew Henson), watching an assortment of documentaries, listening to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream Speech”, and participating in my church’s “Black History Month” presentation. In high school and college, the celebration shifted to getting deeper into the history and achievements of Black people. It also became an opportunity to have more discussions and conversations about the above with not just other Black people, but ALL people. I will say each phase of my life, up to this current moment has and always been about not just celebrating but staying informed, embracing a deeper sense of pride, continuous acknowledgement, and making sure other people realize this is not just a 28-day effort.
Starting out as “Negro History Week” in 1926 by historian and scholar Carter G. Woodson, his intentions were very clear…educate young African Americans about their own heritage, and the achievements of their ancestors. Woodson dedicated much of his life to ensure that history would be re-written and that the Black/African American population would not be ignored. He believed, “the achievements of the Negro properly set forth will crown him as a factor in early human progress and a maker of modern civilization.” This challenge of inserting Black Americans into history was no easy task for Woodson as he and his colleagues struggled to meet the demand for course materials and other resources (sound familiar…). But this would not stop Woodson from doing the work (Officially the celebration became a month-long in 1976)! According to Woodson, making this effort a reality was essential to ensure the physical and intellectual survival of the [Black] race.
Many often ask why February, but Woodson selected this month due to the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, two prominent figures whose historic achievements played a role in the African Americans population. Ultimately, what Woodson hoped is that the public celebrations moved beyond just simply being one week. For him Black History was never meant to be confined into one week, he actually sought for it to be eliminated and see that Black History became fundamental to American History.
Now what becomes interesting over the years is the critiques and naysayers of Black History Month. Some have argued that “Black History Month could reduce complex historical figures to overly simplified objects of ‘hero worship,’” and others have even described it as racist (this becomes very interesting how the celebration of achievements and triumphs is seen as racist…but that is for another time). Then you have specific critics like actors Morgan Freeman and Stacey Dash who criticized the concept of declaring one month as Black History Month. Freeman would note, “there is no White History Month and there should be no Black History Month…Black History is American History. While I find some slender truths to the above thought, unfortunately Freeman is not fully informed. Freeman also noted (and co-signed by Dash) that the only way to get rid of racism is to “stop talking about it” and this is where you completely lose me…It is not that easy. His critique is very much surface-level. It is actually quite the opposite. And even if we agree with pieces of Freeman’s argument, unfortunately not everyone feels the same way about Black History as American History. This is evident considering we still have to constantly remind people that Black Lives Matters! It would be amazing if Blackness and Black life was normalized, sadly we still have work to do when it comes to this endeavor.
As a federally recognized and global celebration (Ireland, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom celebrate Black History Month in October) in 2021, I realize more and more why Black History Month must exist. The celebration has moved beyond the classroom, textbooks are no longer the only source of information, Black History Month is in real time. Instagram in 2018 created its first ever Black History Month program, which featured various initiatives such as a #BlackGirlMagic partnership with Spotify and launching their #CelebrateBlackCreatives program. Various streaming platforms like Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon Prime highlight content that centers Black Voices; and in 2020 Target Corporation created a marketing campaign “Black Beyond measure” that features Black creators and entrepreneurs. Additionally, this year Apple launched a variety of ways to celebrate Black History Month through the App Store Black History Month Hub along with introducing the Black Unity Collection. Many of the abovementioned initiatives not only celebrate, acknowledge, and highlight Black culture but are also financially donating to numerous organizations as a part of “promoting and achieving” equality and civil rights nationally and globally. Although I am sometimes weary of these collaborations, my hope like Woodson, is that it becomes a part of the normal regular conversation and not just during a certain when you can say you satisfied your diversity requirement.
There is a never-ending well of knowledge as it relates to Black History and culture, and we are far beyond just simply only talking about enslavement and civil rights. We must continue to shine a light on the whole entire picture of African Americans. A wealth of knowledge awaits us, not just Black people but everyone!! We are not a monolith, but we are worthy to be celebrated!!
As we reflect and close out another Black History Month celebration, be reminded that it will never be wrong to celebrate each year in February, but know that the fun can and does continue year-round!!
28 Things You Can Do For Black History Month And Even After…
- Educate yourself by digging through the archives of an African American-centered library and/or resource center…Make an active, regular effort to learn about the many facets of Black experiences and culture…Visit a museum/cultural center dedicated to Black History and culture
- Trace your family history (Ancestry.com, 23andMe.com)
- Support a Black-owned business
- Visit/Donate to an Historically Black College or University HBCU
- Host a Family & Friends Black film marathon
- Create a Book Club that highlights Black authors
- Tune into a podcast that discusses Black life and culture
- Create a soundtrack/playlist that explores the history of Black musicians and artists
- Call out systemic racism, stereotypes, prejudices, implicit bias and injustices
- Review the timeline of how Black History came to be
- In honor of the Harlem Renaissance and Black Arts Movement, host a themed open mic night
- In the workplace, have regular, healthy dialogues and conversations about Black life and history [Be thoughtful about inclusion, diversity, and collaborations.]
- Support Black radio stations, Black press, and Black newspapers
- Follow and support Black artists (i.e. comic book, manga, anime, illustrator, painter)
- Incorporate a regular inclusive curriculum (i.e. create lesson plans) in your classroom that inspires and educates (K-12 and College)
- Follow a Black historian, scholar, activist organization, foundation on social media (this provides exposure for them and you get to learn something new on daily/weekly/monthly basis)
- Have a game night with family and friends using one of these games (Black Card Revoked and CultureTags)
- Host a Virtual Wine Tasting with a Black-owned wine and or support/highlight Black sommeliers, winemakers, and businesses
- Host a dinner party, try a new recipe and/or create a weekly menu inspired by Black/African Diasporic cuisines
- Organize/create a Black History Internet Scavenger Hunt that uses questions that pertain to African American people and moments
- Participate in a Story Time reading Black authored children books via your local library/Tune into a “StoryCorps” story that centers Black voices in conversations about Black history, identity, struggles, and joy”!
- Volunteer your time with an organization, non-profit or charity (i.e. Happy Mama Happy Mini, Black Girls CODE, National Society of Black Engineers, United Negro College Fund, Color of Change, National Council of Black Studies, Association for the Study of African American Life and History, Trans Women of Color Collective, Audre Lorde Project, Million Hoodies, Black Women’s Blueprint, and many more) that empowers and uplifts Black diasporic communities.
- Find ways to celebrate Black Joy!! (going to the park, streaming a concert, attending a sports event, etc.)
- Talk about the importance of journalism as well as its limitations with regards to Black social and cultural movements
- Create a monthly mural project that celebrates/honors Black artistic movements (past and present)
- Create a YouTube video diary that documents Black experiences
- Learn about Black history and culture through the lens of Black photographers
- Understand that Black Lives Matter!!
*Jointly published on “Happy Mama Happy Mini“