Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Black History Month

We live in a country that earmarks the shortest month of the year as Black History Month, which feels like a huge slight against generations of slaves who helped build America.

Other nationalities and minorities have designated months and parades, not in February. I understand that non-black people might have begrudgingly conceded that African Americans and other people of color deserved a special time to highlight our accomplishments.

We shouldn't have to cram the recognition of our past and present inventions, achievements, and rewards inside twenty-eight (or twenty-nine during Leap Year) days.

African Americans should be within their rights to celebrate throughout the year, parades and parties perhaps confined to living rooms, backyards, church, and state parks for family reunions.

Teachers and administrators in predominantly African American schools tend to bring out the heavy artillery for Black History Month. I remember performing or speaking every year during an assembly or at church until I transferred to a white school on the other side of town.

It wasn't until my senior year in high school that I made daily Black History Month announcements. I don't know what prevented me from stepping up during my sophomore and junior years. Actually, I do. I didn't think the suggestion would go over well with the administrators. I wasn't in the comfortable environment of my previous neighborhood or schools. I was in a school with students who drove imported sports cars and had domestics, some of which had bungalows on their property larger than my grandmother's house.

It took me two years of acclimation to step up to the microphone to inform the privileged multi-ethnic student body of the contributions of Black America. I didn't take on the role of Cultural Adviser, but it did feel good to educate the masses even for one month.

Prior to changing schools, I'd never asserted my blackness before; there was no need to make a stand prior to the first time I was called boy by someone other than an African American. I was defiant and felt temporarily out of place after school when a white student spun his hair dry the way a dog shakes itself after a bath. I hadn't felt invisible before that incident, but in that moment I knew I had to say or do something.

We still have a long way to go before there's harmony among the races. There was a series of articles in The New York Times that formed an essay collection, How Race Is Lived in America, that I'd recommend everyone read in addition to the works of Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. DuBois, Maya Angelou, Edward P. Jones, and James Baldwin (to name a few).

It would be an amazing occurrence in the United States to have our first African American president. Barack Obama would truly make history!

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