Black History Month is a time for the country to reflect on the contributions of black people to American society but, in our remembering of the past, the reasons for these contributions may get lost in the feel-good celebrations.
Black skin has borne the burden of exclusion, oppression and subordination, dating back to the beginning of American history. Though not exclusive to America, this caste system has made us dependent on white institutions for our daily life, while those institutions have well-established track records of treating black people poorly. Despite this, or perhaps, because of this, black people have been exceptional innovators, carving out spaces of our own in the the face of systematic exclusion from the benefits of whiteness that have been woven into American society.
In remembering the accomplishments of great, black Americans, it seems we have conceded much of how we remember our past to white feelings and fears. So, we celebrate white-approved heroes and even among them, we exclude their more revolutionary acts. By doing this, we miss the opportunity to inspire the critical thinking and bravery in present-day black people that spearheaded the courageous actions of our forefathers that have granted us the access and freedoms we have today.
In what has become a morning ritual of sorts, I was browsing Instagram and came across the post below, that I feel brilliantly put this into perspective.
We at church plays while the enemy in full combat. #AfricanIndependence #blackculture #BlackPride #africa #blackexcellence #melanin #BlackWomen #ProBlack #blackpower #BlackFamilies #blackmen #blackman #blacklove #melaninpower #unapologeticallyafrican #blackgirlmagic #love #unapologeticallyblack #afro #racefirst #blackauthors #reading #BlackNationalism #PanAfricanism #PanAfrican #BlackEmpowerment #AfricanEmpowerment #liberation #blacknation
Social commentator, @bfnrumah poignantly made the point that that many of our ancestor’s contributions were geared toward independence. However, today, we are more dependent than ever on white institutions for our basic necessities. These institutions have proven to be either hostile or indifferent to our well-being. It is a dangerous space for black people to be in and renders us largely powerless to control commerce and policy that affects our communities and environments.
Though we feel proud to see representations of blackness in media, like the anticipated Black Panther movie, and various network programs, we must not forget our reality. Our access to food, clean water and money are almost exclusively dependent on the decisions of those who have proven not to be our friends.
This is not to say that we should not celebrate ourselves, but to remind us that we also must remain vigilant. #BlackGirlMagic and #BlackGenius are awesome to celebrate but we have to be careful that our feel-good social media flexing doesn’t create blind spots to the work we still must do.
Have we lost the meaning of black contributions amidst our celebrations of how far we’ve come? Comment below.