Why is black history celebrated during the month of February? Because it’s the shortest month of the year. This joke has circulated in black communities for several years, and the cynicism embedded in it is telling. It points to a web of frustration, resignation and resentment which rarely fails to ensnare the observant black.
This bitterness is understandable. Black history month celebrations are supposed to make a difference in the perceptions and attitudes of blacks and whites. For both blacks and whites, black history offers a glimpse of the achievements of black culture in all its cultural manifestations-African, Caribbean, European, American. As such, it offers cultural touchstones as a corrective to prejudice and stereotyping.
Yet in still, why do reify and exalt a few exceptional leaders and a few moments in the long history of civilization? A typical United States History Textbook would probably highlight the arrival of the English Settlers, the Declaration of Independence, the creation of the Constitution, the peculiar institution which was used as a euphemism for the 400 plus year of mental and physical bondage of the descendants of the African Diaspora, Reconstruction, Plessy V. Ferguson, The Great Depression, The Harlem Renaissance, Brown V. Board, and the Civil Rights Movement. While all these periods are important chapters in the great American narrative they are still just a sliver of the comprehensive anthology of the folks of darker hues.
We didn’t get 40 acres and a mule, we received a conciliatory 28 days to include our story in the meta-narrative. Yet, this historical reparation continues to enervate and separate our understanding of American civilization. If truth be told, we would understand that race, like sexuality and gender are mere societal constructs that were used as tools of stratification. This stratification helped to create a dominant and subordinate immutable caste system. Some of you may be wondering I’m so cynical, well the truth is I’m not. I’m actually hopeful, I’m hopeful that once we stop referring to Black history as some separate discipline, with separate leaders, and separate accomplishments, we can begin to tear down this caste system that has children thinking that political oppression was merely black and white. History is and will always be fluid. Let’s allow Black history to flow freely into the American story; the good and the bad.