2Mar

Where Did Black History Month Go?

I have a small cache of articles like this, articles I’ve had finished for months but haven’t worked up the courage to hit “publish.”

Sometimes it’s a timing issue.

For example, a well-written, gracious article on the damaging effects of divorce seems hurtful if it’s published right after I spend a day speaking with multiple people right in the middle of that pain. I know that I wrote an article like that a few weeks ago but they don’t know that. So it remains in the “draft” section of posts instead of “published.” At least for a time.

This article falls under the former category, not the latter.

February has officially been Black History Month in America since 1976. It started in 1926 by historian Carter Wooden as Negro History Week but took fifty years for the federal government to make it an official, national observance.

I have always enjoyed Black History Month. Every year on MLK weekend I re-read many of Dr. King’s writings, especially the full transcript of his “Letters from a Birmingham Jail.” I can never get through it without weeping.

But this year seemed different.

I didn’t hear much about Black History Month and that scared me.

As I was trying to wrap my  head around possible reasons BHM seemed to disappear from my radar, I did not receive much comfort. The first nasty finger I pointed ended up being pointed right back at me. The majority of my friends, co-workers, and social circle generally look, think, and talk like I do.

Maybe Black History Month didn’t go anywhere. Maybe I did.

You know the phrase, “Out of sight, out of mind.” Could that really be what happened? I was trying to figure it out last week as Black History Month came to an end so I texted a few of my African American friends. I told them my hunch, that it seemed like BHM had disappeared and I was beginning to think maybe it didn’t go anywhere and that I just simply wasn’t listening with my white ears/life well enough. I asked them if interest in BHM was waning in the African American community.

Most of the responses I received were heart-breaking.

“That’s a great question. The community at large seems too afraid to make much of BHM because of recent national race issues. Some seem too afraid to associate with BHM because they are afraid they will make a mistake that will become the next national race issue.”

Within the African American community a few events have taken place that have been meaningful for those who care…but those are reported like puff pieces in the news, tacked on after weather and sports and everything else that matters more.”

“There’s a general fear and darkness that seems to have set over our community. We’re probably paralyzed into inaction but I think we’re afraid that if we celebrate too much we’ll be associated with Ferguson looters or Al Sharpton or something. It’s just really hard for reasonable people to be really proud we’re black, you know?”

Reading those responses from people I care about, friends from all over the country, felt like I just had the wind knocked out of me.

Do you ever look back at a certain situation and think, “Man I really messed that up.” That’s how I feel about my non-response to much of the race relations conversation happening in our country today. I don’t think the world needs more commentary on specific events (Ferguson, Eric Holder in N.Y., etc.) but there does seem to be an over-arching narrative of broken race relations that points out a failure of people like me, middle class white people to speak up and for our African American friends.

In my fear of making a mistake, I have been silent. Too silent. For that I am very sorry.

I don’t know what it’s like to be a minority. None. See: What a White Man Knows About Racism.

There is no such thing as White History because every month is White History Month. We need change.

Our actions and inaction have led to an effective silencing of the African American community. Some from within the African American community have argued that it’s time to get rid of Black History Month. They argue, wisely, that as long as the AA community is treated as a sidebar, they will never be seen as fully American when in reality, black men and women have served in the armed forces for America in every single war we’ve ever fought.

So where did Black History month go?

The answer is complex, yet simple. On some level, white people simply aren’t paying attention, at least in my corner of the world.

My state is one of ONLY THREE IN THE COUNTRY that actually celebrates Robert E. Lee and Martin Luther King Jr. on the same damn day. Only six states in the country celebrate Lee at all and we do it on MLK Day. Nice.

The racism is masked as “southern pride” or “heritage appreciation.” Even ifIF…that “heritage” is really significant to someone (and I’m calling BS on the whole thing) seeing it hurt our African American friends is enough reason to stop…like the rest of the country has figured out.

If Black History Month is disappearing because it’s giving way to a more full scale integration into American history, I’m all for that. But that’s not what’s happening.

On a more practical level, does your social circle look as vanilla as mine?

How can we hear the groans and fears of the African American community if we’re not with them? 

Did you notice a change in Black History Month this year?

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2 comments

  1. I did notice a change this year Steven. As a teacher, I moved to middle level this year and wondered if I didn’t hear much because I’d left ekementary? I don’t think so. Thank you for your honesty and transparency in bringing this to light. I appreciate that you polled your African American friends. Their perspective on the “why” was heart breaking. In order to make change we must first be aware. Thank you for bringing up this discussion.

    • Thanks for sharing your perspective, Lee Ann. I see much hope on the horizon. God is moving in the hearts of many white church leaders to make racial reconciliation a Gospel issue instead of a peripheral one.

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