Once again, it’s February. The shortest month of the year, our coldest stretch of weather and, hold on, it’s Black History Month, too. Regular readers of this column know that I am an African-American woman, so I’m sure it won’t surprise you I have some thoughts about Black History Month.
I still don’t know if it’s relevant anymore, given that it seems to just echo previous years over and over until it becomes background noise. Hey, let’s roll out some bios on the “safe” black folks like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, maybe a little George Washington Carver if we’re really feeling ambitious. But how often do we add in anyone like Angela Davis, bell hooks, Assata Shakur, or Malcolm X? Nope, they aren’t safe Blacks; talk about them incites the mind to actually think about broader black issues and history.
But no sooner do I get ready to sound the death knell for Black History Month when US Senator Joe Biden of Delaware makes me realize we need to not only keep Black History Month but finally make it something that people pay attention to. Because why, oh why, did he have to say, in reference to Illinois senator and aspiring presidential candidate Barack Obama: “I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy”?
Yikes! Biden may not be a racist or even think he harbors racist thoughts, but from the Black perspective the guy now looks plenty racist and ignorant. Was he napping when Jesse Jackson made a run for his party’s presidential nomination? Or more recently, Democrat Carol Moseley Braun and Republican Alan Keyes? I wasn’t aware that any of them were ugly, unkempt, stupid, or illiterate.
But hey, let’s get closer to home. A good friend of mine in this state puts together black history events in her area and recently had the pleasure of going to a school to talk about black history and diversity, when she made a trip to the restroom and had the pleasure of seeing ethnic slurs on walls, including “nigger.” Officials at the school expressed almost no concern that this graffiti was a big problem or relevant to race relations and suggested my buddy was making a mountain out of a molehill. How’s that for some cultural sensitivity?
These two incidents I offer as evidence that clearly our society’s attempt to embrace racial difference is nowhere near as far as some would have us believe. Publicly, Obama shrugged off Biden’s words and publicly my friend has sat on the graffiti issue. But I can assure you as a black woman that neither incident gets the shrug-off when we are at home among friends and family. Until someone marvels at how neat and articulate Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton is for a white woman, the double standards are still in place.
So in the end, until we reach a point where there is true parity between blacks and whites, maybe Black History Month is still relevant. But rather than singing the Negro spirituals and talking about Dr. King, maybe the emphasis should be on the many unsung heroes and heroines in black culture. Starting with the fact that many before Obama have aimed for the presidency. Hell, in 1972 Shirley Chisolm did the same thing, garnering 151 votes at the Democratic Convention. Yet this tidbit is not the sort of meaningful information mentioned in Black History Month celebrations. And maybe if people knew more about someone like famed pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson rather than Tupac Shakur and 50 Cent, a man like Obama would not seem like such a surprise.
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Shay Stewart-Bouley: firstname.lastname@example.org