This is a column about Black history.
Yes, it’s March.
That’s the point.
I hear people joke that February was designated as Black History Month because it’s the shortest one of the year, which is apparently not true — historian Carter G. Woodson picked it because that’s when Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass’ birthdays are. But with the way that some people react to the idea that African Americans’ contributions to our country should be highlighted, I’m almost willing to believe that the nationwide acknowledgement was relegated to those 28 days to give it the least attention possible.
Because some of you have shown out this February, as my grandmothers would say. The offenses this Black History Month have seemed particularly flagrant. In the past week alone, Dolly Parton’s sister had a meltdown on Twitter about reverse racism and “Dilbert” creator Scott Adams named Black people as a “hate group,” immediately getting his comic strip bounced from several newspapers. (I was half-surprised he faced any consequences at all.)
These folks may not have picked February on purpose for their unfortunate statements; they probably think terrible things year-round. The contributions of African Americans shouldn’t be relegated to a single month, either. They are important. And most pivotally, they are facts. Slavery happened. The bloody end of Reconstruction happened. Jim Crow? Happened. But right now, the governor of my former state of Florida is canceling Black history classes and ripping books off shelves because he and a lot of other people don’t want you to know about these truths.
I think there are a lot of reasons for this, but the most important one, at least to me, is that facts don’t care about your feelings. If people can’t twist them to suit their own agenda, they’d rather just erase them.
If more people really understood how deep the roots of my ancestors and others of African descent are planted into our national history, they’d have to think of them — of us — as people. They’d have to consider our humanity. But those who thrive on hate and division would rather that non-Black people view us as negligible to anything of importance, because then we’re easy to distrust and diminish.
Even worse, they want Black people not to know our own history so that we’ll believe we are no more than the chattel we were brought here as and intended to be. That we have no heritage. That we belong nowhere.
That’s a dirty lie. We aren’t leprechauns and reindeer that you have to pack up at the end of our designated season. We are timeless, regardless if it’s Feb. 28 or March 2.
Just this week, I had a fascinating talk via Zoom with some talented journalism students at Eastern Tennessee State University who produce a magazine called Overlooked in Appalachia. I’m going to write about our entire conversation at length soon, because the parallels between their sense of community journalism and ours at The Banner are surprisingly numerous. But I was struck by a story one student is writing about the history of the banjo.
“People think that it’s just some Appalachian country music thing, but it was actually created by Black people,” she told me. I knew that. I also know that what we know as country music can trace its origins back to African rhythms and traditions, though others want to claim that music as theirs and Black people as aliens in its world. But that’s not the case. These are the facts. It doesn’t matter if you’re in your feelings about them. Sorry.
Actually, I’m not.
So what do we do with this information? Are we supposed to abolish Black History Month? Nah. I think it’s important to have that designation, because some people don’t want to give us even that, just as they don’t want to have Women’s History Month, which we’re currently in, or Pride Month in June. If we don’t hold onto those days, we’ll be written off the calendar. And we’re not gonna do that. Some of y’all are trying. But no.
The way forward, I think, is to continue to talk about history, the breadth of it, whenever we can. If you’re discussing the banjo, talk about Appalachian bluegrass, yes, but also about the enslaved people who crafted the instruments out of gourds. If you’re talking about the history of Washington, D.C., talk about Benjamin Banneker, who helped design the blueprints of the city. If you’re talking about American music, talk about Baltimore-born Billie Holiday. It’s the truth.
I hate to be conspiratorial here, but the attempt to bury this history is so those who hate Black people won’t be confronted with the depth of our roots, our worth, our influence. And that’s the first step in their conquest of our community.
To paraphrase my favorite song, they come to build a wall between us. Don’t let them win — in this or any month.