Black History Month

[This was originally posted on Facebook, but has been copied here and backdated appropriately.]

This month – February – is Black History Month.

This month is not about me, but I hope that you will all bear with me for a moment and forgive me as I use the word “I” more than I should:

I was born in Tennessee – the American South – and despite many of my peers being people of color and various races, I was raised as a product of the white-centric American education system. That means, basically, that my understanding of black history amounted to little more than “we used to be mean to black people and call them names [whispering: and hang a few], but we stopped doing that a long time ago and made them EQUAL, and now they just like to do drugs and riot a lot about what happened in the past”.

I accepted this completely wrong “definition” of Black history (and present), not knowing any better, for a long time. Not because I thought it was right, but because it didn’t materially affect me. As an utterly privileged white male, I never really thought much about it. I accepted that it was normal to occasionally hear denigrating comments towards people of any color or of non-Christian religions – it’s the South, after all! I accepted that some of my family just “didn’t like black people”, and that was normal, right? I accepted that it was all just good fun, and everybody jokes, and jokes are harmless, right? I accepted that it was normal to hear people joke about “ebonics” or to mock religious practices or clothing.

I personally didn’t like it, and I attempted not to participate or encourage it, but I accepted it, and I admit that I certainly did participate on occasion.

I now accept that I was wrong, and that I can do better.

I contributed – even if primarily passively – to racism, to discrimination, to hurting people, and I refuse to do that or accept it from anyone else any longer.

I ignored or looked away or walked away far too often, and I refuse to ignore or look away or walk away any longer.

I ignored Black History Month, because I am not black. That was wrong, too.

Black History Month is not about or for black people celebrating black history – having a beer and toasting Dr. King, as I perhaps previously imagined – it’s for everyone (and especially everyone that’s not black). It’s about recognizing the impacts that everyone has had on black history, and especially how those impacts have molded and shaped what it means to be black in America. Many of those impacts have been negative and uncomfortable for white people like myself. Many of those impacts have been positive (and unfortunately often still uncomfortable for white people!).

This month is about recognition – both the joyous and the solemn kind. This month is also about, after achieving some recognition, offering unguarded praise and optimism for black innovation and advances, offering condolences for black sacrifice, shedding tears for black repression and suffering, and offering your heart to accepting and embracing Black History.

Black History Month is not about making blacks equal to whites somehow by giving them a month and marking it on everyone’s calendars. It’s about having the fortitude and compassion and sense to both accept the ugly past, and commit to making blacks and Black Future BETTER than your own. After all, by embracing each other, acknowledging and embracing our differences, and pushing each other higher, nobody actually gets left behind – we all rise up together.

You are black. I see that you are black. I love your blackness. I am sorry for everything. I love you. I will fight for you.

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