Hate Black History Month
Freeman was recently criticized for declaring Black History Month
ridiculous. While I'm probably at risk for having my Black card
revoked, I must admit that I'm so glad someone finally said it.
I hate Black History Month. Surprise! It's the one month out of
the year when white people feel comfortable asking me all sorts
of strange, inappropriate questions and treating me as if I'm the
spokesperson for the black race.
Perhaps I would feel differently if I had come of age during the
civil rights movement. You know, before black people had stuff and
we had to march for everything: desegregation, voting rights, seats
on a bus. I would have had a closet full of dashikis and worn my
hair in an afro. Occasionally, I'd have raised my fist high in the
air -- a symbol of solidarity, and chanted "Uhuru," which
I think means freedom in some African language.
Instead I missed the whole civil rights thing by about 30 years
and was the by-product of what everybody was fighting for: integration,
equality and the right to be the only black kid in the classroom,
unknowingly sent off to school to represent the entire black race
for an entire month every year.
I didn't always hate February. My hatred and discomfort grew over
time. I spent my early years in a small town in Massachusetts where
February meant school activities that involved cutting out the shape
of Martin Luther King's head and pasting it to a Popsicle stick.
I hated the cardboard cut-outs of Ben Carson, George Washington
Carver and Thurgood Marshall that were taped to the walls for exactly
28 days. I hated the laminated poster of Harriet Tubman looking
like a ghost holding a lantern and leading the slaves to freedom
via the Underground Railroad. I hate having to read aloud Sounder,
The Bluest Eye, To Kill a Mockingbird or any other
book that some invisible educational committee decided would be
perfect because they contain the words: nigger, shack, freedom,
and all have at least one character with the name Miss Bessy or
From time to time I awake in the middle of the night drenched with
sweat -- flashbacks from countless Februarys spent in elementary
and high school. In seventh grade we moved to Roswell, GA, a city
about 30 minutes outside of Atlanta, and I shudder when I recall
my English teacher deciding that we would watch taped episodes of
I'll Fly Away. Afterwards she led a discussion about how
times were so much simpler then, as the show portrayed an idyllic
southern life during the fifties.
"Yeah, Mrs. Ellis, it was nice when blacks couldn't vote and
the only thing we could hope for was an opportunity to clean up
after white people." Someone even brought in a copy of Gone
with the Wind and we watched it in pieces throughout the week.
I have never in my life had the desire to see that film and was
amazed that all the white girls knew the film word for word.
It was also impossible to have a discussion related to television
during the month of February without some idiot mentioning how much
they loved the show Good Times, and how realistic it was.
One year we even had an "African-American Celebration"
in the school auditorium, which still manages to make me cringe
when I think of it. There's nothing wrong with celebrating the achievements
of African-Americans, but if it's not done with the precision of
a surgeon it can easily become a minstrel show. I clearly remember
not wanting to participate. My homeroom teacher made me attend,
after telling me that I was unappreciative and who else did I think
all of this was being done for?
The show featured an African dance troupe. They danced barefoot,
and pounded on a steel drum. Now, I've been to a number of African
countries, have even participated in drum circles, but this time
it just didn't work. Whose bright idea was it to present live culture
to ignorant high school students at my expense? I can imagine the
committee meeting: "Let's have something authentic like really,
really black people basket weaving and beating drums." "I'd
like to see brown children with big tummies
and flies, flies everywhere, that's genuine."
Unfortunately, the year of the dance troupe was the same year that
Shaka Zulu aired on television. You may not remember but
it's something that I'll never forget, because I tend to divide
my school years into two chapters -- before Shaka Zulu and
after. A ten-hour epic touted as being about "an illegitimate
prince who reclaims his birthright with brilliance and brutality,"
I watched the program which aired over the course of three nights.
I kept thinking, "Damn it. I hope no one else is tuned into
TBS." But of course they were tuned in, everyone was
tuned in. The mini-series provided my classmates with a new arsenal
of insults to hurl at me. Instead of calling me by name, I was referred
to as "Spear Chucker." If it makes you cringe, imagine
living it -- every single day.
I graduated from high school, leaving all of my nightmares behind.
I'd decided to go to an historically black college due to repeated
nightmares of several white girls in my dorm room telling me how
some chick named Emily with high SAT scores didn't get in because
I'd taken her place with the help of affirmative action. So I moved
to Washington, DC to attend Howard University.
At Howard, every day was about Black History, but not in the cheesy,
exploitive way that can happen in a small white town like Roswell,
GA. Forget the posters, forget about the cardboard cut-outs; our
buildings were named after influential blacks. I took classes studying
Blacks in the Arts, Psychology of the Black Experience, and yes,
there is some psychology to the experience. I learned that I wasn't
unnaturally angry or paranoid or any of the things that I'd heard
whispered about me -- and that it's okay to just be exhausted by
it all. I had professors that I couldn't stand for any number of
reasons, but not once did I imagine the contention stemmed from
me having brown skin.
I met so many people that had stories mirroring mine and it's fascinating
how tragedy and humiliation morph into hilarity when you're surrounded
by others who've endured the same thing. I learned coping mechanisms
for how to deal with racism, its effects, and other people's stereotyped
ideas of who I am -- and I felt safe, comfortable and happy.
This year I'm boycotting Black History Month. I have too many bad
memories to celebrate for an entire 28 days. When I have children
I plan on sending a note with them to school on the first day of
February. It will read: My children are not to participate in
Black History Month festivities this year. They are not allowed
to attend assemblies, write any reports, or to discuss the Shaka
Zulu mini-series that will undoubtedly air every day this month.
If there's a problem please call me.
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