Why Celebrate Black History Month?
By Bakari Akil II
Many complain, criticize and ponder on the necessity of Black History Month (BHM) and even question its effectiveness. At times, I have been guilty of these unfair assessments and have often witnessed or read about others making comments such as:
It's too commercialized!
It's Negro Employment Month!
Here we go again with the same old faces and same old names; and
It is just a month long feel-good session with no tangible results!
The combinations and variations of the above can be recited ad nauseam and have already begun to circulate as February approaches. However, as each year passes, it has become apparent that the existence of Black History Month is not the issue. It is our approach to it.
Not only has the majority of the Black populace, for which it was created, not taken an active role in its promotion, we have not taken an active role in its development either. For the most part, individuals who cite the previously mentioned criticisms do so in jest and to point out some absurdities in the society of which we find ourselves a part. Yet, others are 'dead serious' about this type of analysis, which is fine, if there is some type of fruitful action that follows.
Black History Month, which used to be Negro History Week and owes it origins to the prolific writer and educator Dr. Carter G. Woodson, has enormous potential if Black communities will recognize the possibilities. We must realize that there is no other time where this much concentrated effort and energy is placed on highlighting Black achievement. We must take advantage of it and in fact, must squeeze every ounce of usefulness out of this time that we have available.
If we allow our only representations for Black History Month to be limited to commercial TV, radio spots or apathetic school systems, then what should we expect? If Black communities allow its' legacies to be trivialized, then whose fault is it really?
Black history being acknowledged by McDonald's or school systems where only 'safe' historical icons are glorified is not the problem. It's always pleasant, albeit boring, to hear about those who have achieved greatness, even if it's the 100th time I've heard about Garrett A. Morgan and his version of the traffic light, or Jan Matzeliger and his shoe lasting machine. Yet, the onus is not on McDonald's or any other corporate entity to provide meaningful content about the Black community along with your hamburger and fries. It is the responsibility of individual citizens to make Black History Month something of value and worthwhile to themselves and others.
What should we do?
We can take responsibility in numerous ways. One of the easiest ways to do so is by attending ceremonies, presentations, speeches, galas, etc, that highlight Black culture and history. By doing this it demonstrates that we are not only concerned about our history, but are proud of our forbearers' successes as well as struggles. What may be even better than our attendance may be our actual participation in these events and adding our own personal talents.
Yet, this is only a miniscule portion of the possible actions that we can take to make BHM an experience that we can not only look forward too, but that can quell even the most stubborn naysayers. One thing we can do is engage those with whom we are close throughout this month on issues pertaining to Black culture and history, challenging them and ourselves to probe deeper and to understand why our heritages are so important.
Gathering a deeper understanding of the history of Black businesses in the US and further demonstrating that understanding of its importance by conducting business with one is another alternative. Acknowledging the role that economics has played in our overall development, either in making Black communities independent or more dependent is an area, in which, we should all focus.
Quickly, what else can we do to make BHM exceptional? How about:
Learn about historical figures and share that knowledge with others.
Hold family discussions and read Black history to children.
Rent, buy or watch Black historical documentaries or movies.
Make trips to Black owned bookstores (if available) and purchase books, audiotapes and other Black history paraphernalia.
Wear Black history on your 'sleeve' by wearing cultural items or clothing.
Gain a deeper appreciation of Black music of different genres and eras.
Reach out to youth in your circle of influence or in your community.
Use creativity to make your community understand how important BHM is; and
For those who already active, become even more active!
In the final analysis, Black History Month is what we make it. The criticisms leveled at this period of time are really criticisms that we are leveling at ourselves. Could it be that WE are actually mediocre, playing it safe, not going deep enough and are shallow in our examination and our aspirations? Society is often a reflection of the individuals who make up that society. So if Black History Month and our society's celebration of it is inconsequential, then what does that say about us?
I don't know about you, but I'm going to "get my Black History Month on" starting February 1st, 2004!
Bakari Akil is an editor for GlobalBlackNews.com and can be reached at
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