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Black History Month: Lost

18 Feb

What keeps Black History Month alive? What keeps any heritage month alive? It’s february and it took me nearly two weeks to realize that it was Black History Month. You may be thinking “No big deal. You have a few weeks left to do something to commemorate. Why is it bothering you?” As a former Macalester Black History Month Committee member it means something to me that I forgot. It means something even more that in the week or so since I realized I’ve seen only 4 pieces of evidence to make me believe others remember as well.

To me the invisibility of black history month is a signifier of the way that activism and civil rights are being pressed into the background of American consciousness. If you are working in America today more than likely you are too focused on dealing with the work before you and the small instances of institutionalized racism that effect you personally to notice that the fight gone by is being forgotten. Students, school children and sometimes families that have small children seem to be the guiding push that keeps this particular heritage month alive. Even those purveyors of history seems to be waning. Feminists keep alive women’s history month with a call for equality for women. Where have the black activists, continuing to question the lack of black roles in hollywood or a canon that includes more than old white men and women, gone? Where are our questioners? Our button pushers?

In January the second inauguration of our first Black President reminded each of us of how far our country has come from Slavery and segregation. Yet, instead of sparking a discussion or our forefathers for the month of February, for the very least, I believe the inauguration allows Americans to pretend that we are truly colorblind. Despite the continued rhetoric about Obama’s blackness, having a black president to the majority of Americans means we’re even. We’re square. The history of black intellectuals and activists can go back to being just a single page in a textbook.

For those who continue to make a study of America and of the cultural shifts and signifiers of our current era, I would say that they know what the average American chooses to forget, there is no even. There is no color blind. While racial issues in America transform with each generation the struggles continue. And now they aren’t limited to single race issues. My mixed race friends will tell you it is a struggle to be remembered. A struggle to be heard.

This isn’t necessarily a call to action but rather a call to remembrance. Things have happened in the past. Things we can’t change and things we should never forget.  My ability to sit here in my “armchair” and observe the working of American culture as a queer, black woman are the direct result of the work done by so many leaders who have come before me. Remember what it used to be to be black in America. Remember because it wouldn’t take much to fall backward. We are just a hand out of the civil rights movement and we can easily go back to drowning in hatred and pain.

Where did I see black history month this month?

  • On the radio: Sunday nights on 106.1 KMEL they play a show that is truly community based and Black-centric.
  • At a bookstore: I went to two bookstores the last few weeks. I saw one display that was really about ten books on a table related to black history or black people. There were more books about the presidents than about black people.
  • NYSE: Did you see when they let all the black employees ring the opening bell? There were TWELVE of them. That’s it.

How can you remember? Try these books: