It’s one of our favorite times of the year. Everywhere you look there is a pioneer receiving their rightful acknowledgement. TV Networks and all sorts of media arenas are recognizing the Black contributions to their establishments and every “down” Black person you know has their RGB colors adorned. The country is giving honor to Black achievement and it’s pretty lit. Yet as we bask in the glory of the world’s recognition, we should remain aware of a certain troublesome trend.
Take a moment to ask yourself how many times this month you have heard, “And now, we celebrate (insert Black person), who was the first Black (insert occupation/position/achievement formerly reserved only for White Americans)”. From Phyllis Wheatley to Jackie Robinson to Barack Obama, we have grown – or perhaps been given – a perchance for celebrating Black achievement only as it relates to integrating into the greater-American realm.
There will be a continuing rotation of stories of Black people “breaking the color barrier” this month and at the same time we will seldom hear of stories of Black individuals, communities, and institutions, that opted for trying not to fit into the greater-American fold but instead choose social, professional, and economic self-reliance instead and we all know why we will not hear these stories; they do not benefit the greater American narrative that continues to write and rewrite itself. Because of this, stories of Black achievement in the name of self-determinism in response to the treatment of the day have no space on our nation’s school bulletin boards. These acknowledgements of Black people by Black people for the sake Black people have no place at center stage of our mainstream American past times and programs (see Beyonce and Tommie Smith and John Carlos).
When the Honorable Dr. Carter G. Woodson established Negro Achievement Week in 1926, his purpose was to educate the nation and the world on the contributions Black people had given them. Yet, if your celebrations of Black Achievement do not recognize Black independence and self-determinism and along side of the stories of persistence and rightful entrance into the greater-American fold, you are not acknowledging the totality of the story.
So if you are interested in broadening and enriching your Black History celebration for the rest of the month, remember to include stories of Black independence, solidarity, and self-reliance along with the tales of the brave and pioneering ancestors that helped make the American Dream accessible to all in your celebrations and programming. Be sure your peers, institutions, and communities give regards to the trailblazing works of present and past day pioneers such as Maria Stewart or Benjamin Singleton, Hubert Harrison or Angela Davis that found that solidarity among one’s own in times of social strife could be a prosperous alternative to fighting for entrance into a house that didn’t want them.
No historical movement for freedom and equality has ever been homogeneous in it’s approach; therefore, when recognizing the journey of any people in any period in history, we must remember to embrace these stories in all of their color and in all of their richness. Being selective with the stories we choose to share turns inspiring lessons of history into propaganda. The real and honest celebration of Black History only begins when we begin to recognize the story in all its deliberate fullness. Deciding what story does and doesn’t deserve recognition only strengthens the global hegemony that Dr. Woodson looked to vanquish when he decided it was time that the world knew the full truth.