The actor, author, and everybody’s first choice to narrate their biopic, Morgan Freeman, once said, “I don’t want a Black History Month. Black History is American History.”
Black History Month
I remember first learning about Black History Month as a kid and wondering how it made African Americans feel. By that time, I had marched in St. Patrick’s Day parades and hated it. I felt like someone had corralled all the Irish people and made us put on a show. I thought it would be much worse to be told I have a month to celebrate my racial and ethnic history that had been ignored or forgotten for 400 years.
Celebrations can be fun but also sometimes contemplated hastily. In some cases, these celebrations do more for the celebrant’s conscience than for the betterment of the celebration.
Take a groundbreaking. I have been the twerp in a tie with a shovel weaky digging a wedge of dirt along with other pinstripe suited folks. I wonder what the construction workers were thinking while watching that or watching the workday waste away as the gathered backslappers finished their champagne having never known a day of physical labor. The lack of empathy in that setting is astounding. I can only imagine the well-deserved mocking those really doing the work silently shot in our direction.
Oe cannot mention over-the-top narcissism without addressing reality TV. We send people to places to compete in a game called “Survivor.” Apparently, the absence of potable water and WiFi places one in immediate danger of death. We rejoice in watching a game in a tropical place where death by nature awaits anyone at the slightest slipup. A-game. A game of life or death by exposure to the elements that we play for fun. In places where people already live. Do we help them? Of course not; that would not help ratings. How must those indigenous people feel?
Who is Black History Month For?
Which leads back to the question Mr. Freeman raises: who is Black History Month for? Is it to celebrate black culture like St. Patrick’s Day? Is it to honor the advancements and contributions by African Americans to the great experiment of America? Does it aim to help in bettering society towards a perfect union of presumed acceptance? More grassroots, is the goal of this month to move folks to do something, anything, to help the African-American community?
Or is Black History Month a remedial class for those of us who did not take the time (or were not given the opportunity) to become familiar with the facets of our joint history that included people of African heritage? I pose this question not to assign blame or guilt. Rather, we should aim to uncover our own bias, the past failings of our society, and how we mitigate the past while not becoming hypnotized by it to the detriment of our future.
I reject those who say or act as if “you are welcome” is the appropriate response during Black History Month. They read a poem or two, watch the “I Have a Dream” speech on YouTube, and go skiing during the long weekend having checked off a box as if they accomplished some charitable act.
I think it is more appropriate to express gratitude for the unearned second chance. Gratitude for the patience and forgiveness of Black History Month, and thank you for the opportunity to improve and correct my behavior and intellect on these matters. And, last, to ask how we can do better?
How can we do better?
As a white man, I have no answers. To propose an answer to the above questions would put me in league with the people who thought it was a clever idea to have executives play construction party or pitched pretending to almost die on TV in conditions where people make their homes. Maybe Morgan Freeman will say something else wiser than I could ever hope to be and we will have our answer. Until then, I will continue to think about my role in all of this.