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Black history has too much “trend” and not enough of “ tradition” these days.
Trends are what people feel is popular for a brief moment in time. They’re erratic, politicized, electrifying and have mass public appeal–until we’re distracted by the next shiny object.
Traditions, however, have staying power. They’re celebrated and respected, embedded in the fabric of culture and communal routine but, may not be everybody’s cup of tea.
When we think about Black history, the current movement for justice and recognition of our humanity, which description fits more? I’d say trend, and I’ll tell you why. Let’s talk specifically about Black history.
Black History Month
Every year on February 1st, all of the skinfolk are chanting, “Say it loud, I’m Black and I’m proud!”
You see social media posts with historical facts and figures, programs at some schools and churches. All of the networks are highlighting Black movies and documentaries. Yet, as the month progresses, the chants become faint and the raised fists begin to lower. By March 1st, it’s back to business as usual until Juneteenth.
I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s Black people’s fault because, once again, this country has given us Black History Month as a table scrap. I often use the term “table scraps” to describe a few pieces of “representation” and occasional justice used to curb our appetite or distract us from reaching for the actual prize–which is a well-deserved buffet of actual freedom.
I’m not at all diminishing the “Black Godfather”, Carter G. Woodson’s work to create Negro History Week (which was later extended to a month by President Gerald Ford). But since then, this country has worked overtime to erase our history and destroy outspoken truth tellers to a point where a lot of us have little to no connection to our ancestry or the past.
In the U.S., our history is politicized as “Critical Race Theory”
Currently, fluctuating debates over critical race theory have made conversations about the teaching of thorough Black history in America a trending topic. But truth be told, we have never been adequately represented in classrooms.
McGraw Hill told our stories in textbooks. They read something like this: Slavery happened. Harriet got some of us out of it, but Lincoln ultimately emancipated us. Rosa didn’t feel like sitting at the back of the bus. Martin had a dream. Barack was the first Black man to ever be president. Now, here we are.
There’s 403 years of history pertaining to the lives of Black folks in America that schools, teachers and textbooks have condensed into those six events. The “powers that be” never have and never will want people to understand America’s deep-rooted history in upholding racism and classism to oppress the masses. Nor have they wanted us to understand the power, joy, love and resilience that our ancestors possessed despite their circumstances.
Making history a tradition allows us to ground ourselves in identity and culture, gaining a sense of pride and appreciation for our ancestry. Knowing and embodying the power of history strengthens our resistance to the oppressive history that repeats itself. Studying history provides the blueprint for that resistance and most importantly, it lends to the vision of where we’re going.
With all of the efforts to erase and minimize Black history, how much value can people have in something they’re unfamiliar with? How connected can we be to something that’s as foreign as the continent from which we were stolen?
This isn’t pointing a finger or shaming us for allowing our history to be a trend over a tradition. But now that we know, it is our fight and responsibility to reclaim, immerse ourselves in, celebrate and defend our history year round.