Black History is American History

Surviving Black History Month

by Kimberly Drew

Black History is American History

 

A firm believer in the placebo that is a new year, I get excited as December winds down. I set my sneakers near my door with the hopes that on January 1st I’ll magically wake up and be ready to run the Boston marathon. As January creeps along I attempt to turn my resolutions into effortless routines. This year rather than vowing to lose half my body weight I decided to try something a little more useful. My resolution for 2013 was surviving Black History Month.

Now I know you’re reading and thinking this chick is crazy. Why would a black person cringe at the month that should stand for their annual dosage of 40 acres and a mule? Why? Because it’s an anxiety inducing month. Twenty-eightish days designed to encompass (and in turn pathologize) Black history.

As an undergrad at Smith College I was a scholar in African-American studies. After studying blackness around the clock the idea that Black History Month can serve it’s role in our society is a hyperbolic and insulting one. So, for all of those spirits who are plagued by the second month of the year I thought I’d outfit each of you with a Black History Month survival guide.

1

Celebrate otherness. While race is a social construct, it dictates the way that we view others and are seen by others. Accepting that you are different is the first step in guiding your way through a month that can limit your identity. A song that I’ve been using to remind myself of this fact is by a gentleman named Two Chainz.

2

Avoid advertising ploys. As Hank Willis Thomas said, “race has been the most successful marketing ploy in the history of the world.” Don’t let corporations bait you with schemes that do nothing but enforce corporate monopolies. Don’t believe me? Visit Vintage Black Ads on Tumblr to see generations of advertisements that were designed to target black audiences.

3

Read, read, read… literacy is a privilege; take head. Let Black History Month be your excuse to rediscover Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, fall in love with Jean Toomer’s Cane or delve into the four volumes of Henry Louis Gates and David Bindman’s The Image of the Black in Western Art. There is agency seeded in every page turn and every click through on articles about Black history.

4

Don’t watch the Grammys or the Oscars. Yeah I said it, ignore the academy at all costs. As a survivor of this year’s Grammys and Seth McFarlane’s wildly offensive take on hosting the Oscars, I can testify that it’ll do no one any good feeding into a system that works to remind women and minorities that they will never be good enough.

5

Know that Black history is American history… It’s in our best interest to celebrate different aspects of American life, see how they intersect and deconstruct our preconceived prejudices. Black History Month places Black history in a vacuum. The month should be a celebration of racial progress, cultural difference and a time to reflect on contemporary blackness. Our only hope in successfully surviving Black History Month is a universal understanding that these things are not exclusive to racial blackness.

 

*amazing gif borrowed from Tumblr staff

Quotables

When you first see a new picture you are very careful because you may be staring at van Gogh’s ear. — Rene Ricard

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