Black History Month

Black History month is here again. There go the usual suspects—Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Booker T. Washington, Ella Baker, Carter G. Woodson, W. E. B. DuBois, Martin Luther King, George Washington Carver, Fannie Lou Hamer, a little Malcolm X (El Hajj Malik El-Shabazz), Oprah, and now Barack Obama. No Nat Turner, no Jackson State killings, no Martin Delany, no Marcus Garvey, no Frantz Fanon, no Jamil Abdullah al-Amin, no A. Philip Randolph, no Cheikh Anta Diop, no COINTELPRO, no Tuskegee experiment, no Assata Shakur, and definitely no Fred Hampton or Mumia Abu-Jamal. Until Obama I don’t think there’d been any official black history since the sixties, other than lower-colon Powell and Condoleeza Rice. Jebus.

So Unca Bubba gave us the shortest month—no surprises there—to take up the slack. Hundreds of years of lies and omission and lies and misdirection and lies versus Black History Month. Hah.

I have mixed feelings about Black History Month. I like the attention paid to black people who didn’t sing or play ball. I have nothing against athletes or performing artists, but they get year-round attention. So, if now and then somebody learns something he didn’t know about a black person he’d never heard of, that’s good. On the other hand, Black History Month is still the colored water fountain.

If you modify history, it doesn’t count, because it’s still his story, if you see what I mean. You’ve got to quote history: No rewriting, no paraphrasing. Otherwise, it’s a special history, on a special shelf. A biography of Zora Neale Hurston is not gonna be with the other biographies. It’ll be in the colored section, as usual.

History can include many different voices, but it obviously doesn’t have to. Describing reality is primarily deciding what to leave out, and an all-inclusive history is unattainable. Nobody knows what you were doing in the moonlight on that picnic table that time, and history is incomplete without that information. Since history is always incomplete anyway, you can relax.

I can imagine the end of Black History Month. When I hear booming rap music on the street, it’s usually coming from a white man’s pickup truck. And my sons learned urban (i.e., black) slang from their white classmates. That’s major melding. Every time I hear a little white child say, “I be,” rather than “I am,” I smile. That kind of cultural appropriation is a far cry from equality or justice, but it is a sign of something new.

Each generation is new. That seems to be the point. Not only are we all individually different, generations are different from the ones before and in ways we can’t know in advance. Lucky for them.

Posted Thursday, February 4th, 2010 under education, history, Negroes, politics, Uncategorized, United States.

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