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African Cultural Calendar blog

Black History Month: A Reflection

Carter G Woodson imageBlack History Month is over and perhaps this is an appropriate time to take a moment to reflect. This year we have attended a number of celebrations, found out about some “black firsts” or in some cases “black lasts”. Now that it is all said and done, the only remaining question is: what is black history month suppose to be about?

When I was a teenager in 450’s otd (1970s), I attended black history month events. I will not call them celebrations because they were not. They were educational events especially for the young people. It was at one of those events that I first heard the name Marcus Garvey or Walter Rodney. I recalled an extended discussion about Walter Rodney’s book. No, not: How Europe Underdeveloped Africa but the other one, “Groundings with My Brothers”. There was an underlying theme to these events in the 450s otd. There was a sense that they were preparing the next generation of Garvey and Rodney. These types of black history events gave us the opportunity to “ground with our brothers” and to gain the confidence that comes with knowing who we are. These events were preparing us to assert our humanity like Walter Rodney said: “so long as there are people who deny our humanity as Blacks then for so long must we proclaim and assert our humanity as Blacks”. I have to admit that those were heady times. Every head at those events sported an afro. These weren’t events about black first. We won’t celebrating because someone did something in the other man’s world for the first time, while at the same time signally the death of that same thing in our world. Black firsts are not birthing ceremonies; they are often funeral announcements. That is not what these events were about. They were about who we were, who we are and who we can be. They were about education. The kind of education Carter G. Woodson referred to as an effort to make us think and do for ourselves.

Those events were not just folks quoting Garvey, even thought, it was Garvey who gave us the anthem of the 450s (1970s) “Black is Beautiful”. These events included long presentation about the UNIA. The questions and debate were about why did it fail. Did we under estimate the enemies? What were the shortcomings of Garvey that led to the failure of the Black Cross or the Black Star Liner? Could these be re-built? Could the challenges be overcome? The conversation was meaningful to everyone in the room. It was about us. It was about the courage and confidence of the ancestors and how to build on it. It was about finding the strength to stand with them on our foundation. There were no spectators in the room. There was no one there to enjoy the black history month “celebration”. As a teenager, I would leave these events knowing that if we did that, I can do this or as Molefi Asente might put it because they were, I am. There was a sense back then that we were almost there, that Garvey will rise again and we would put our lives back on its foundation. Garvey ImageIn the 460 otd (1980s), I worked in a public library. I worked there for seven years. In those years, there was never a February when Black History was “celebrated”. Today, you would be hard press to find a public library anywhere in North America which would let February go by without having some kind of display for “Black History Month”. Before you start celebrating, that may not be an indication of progress; it may be a confirmation of our continued oppression. It may indicate that we are not in control. We are not in control of shaping the world in our image. It may indicate that we are not the ones asserting our humanity. If you take my experience as a gauge it would say that up until the 470 otd (1990s) our enemies and oppressors did not know that we had something going on. We were educating ourselves so we can do what Garvey, Turner, Boukman or Toussaint had done. We were educating our children so they could have the confidence that come from knowing that they are connected to the names Kush and Meroe. That a book titled “Egypt the Light of the World” is about them and their heritage. What went wrong? How did our enemies win the peace?

Who is the traitor who invited our enemies to a Black History Month event? There must have been a “non-black first” and unlike the “black first” where there are no “black seconds” or “black thirds” to follow. This “non-black first” not only showed up with seconds and thirds but he eventually turned it from an education for our people to a celebration for his people. The problem with celebrating instead of educating is another “black first”. Our children do not know who they are; they do not know that their lives matter. We are the first generation among our people to let the children grew up without knowing that without them there is no future. We have put them in a situation where they are wondering because they do not know if their lives matter? It is not too late we can still take control of our lives but to do that Black History Month and the whole approach to our troubles need a new narrative. Is it time for us to have a real conversation?

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Axum 24, 503 otd.