Welcome to the second week of February! Since it’s that special month of the year, I’m talking about Black History Month (BHM) today with some new thoughts on the way we think about cultural months and celebrations.
I’ve written quite a few posts before about this month, what it means to people, and the education we both have and haven’t received about Black history. Today, I’m writing about some new thoughts: the way we celebrate BHM changes depending on the context we’re living/celebrating in and especially as we’ve seen this last year, the perspective you place on that celebration.
In the past, cultural heritage/celebration months have come up yearly and people inevitably ask, “why isn’t there a white history month?” While the answer’s been explained many times, it makes me wonder why many of these cultural months and celebrations are consistently followed by “but why” statements.
Even as a young child, I remember talking about black history and feeling the lack of attentiveness in many of my peers to the content being taught. We pay attention more to what pertains to us. As we got older and had even more access to teach ourselves through the internet or flip phones that became iPhones with cellular data, we all had more opportunities to pick and choose the information we looked for.
Whatever students didn’t learn or pay attention to in school, they probably weren’t going to learn at all unless it was placed in front of them with nowhere else to go. So, in the last year, when people began seeking out more information about other cultures and how to be more inclusive, I wondered where it would take us.
How would some of those same peers I grew up with trying to now teach themselves about race change how they saw the color of my skin and the cultures of those around me? Would it change the questions asked at the beginning of February and other cultural months? Would it change their perspective of how they see me, how they see us?
Would any of it matter in the long run?
It’s been almost a year since masses of people began to partake in their own forms of activism or self-learning and in many ways, I do think it has changed quite a bit about how we see months like this one— just not in the way I had thought.
Last year, we saw large movements of Black people and our allyship coming together to fight for justice and civil rights in countless ways. Social justice became both a priority and a buzzword at the same time. From the internet to classic marches, technology has changed the game these days in how we can mobilize. In turn, the Black Lives Matter Movement is most likely what many people my age will remember when our present truly becomes our history; we will remember this movement, these times, and the turmoil we have grown up in.
Unfortunately, many people have also come to compare the movement and the outpouring of allyship to what should happen in contexts of wrongdoing against communities of color.
While blackness is seen as other and this month is one to recognize our history, the hardships and movements that have come about to push for a better future no longer stand as Black history or representation only. In some situations, they are now being used as comparisons for why it is our (Black people’s) responsibility to support other people of color the way they supported us.
When put in the context of the last year and the allyship others offered, if put in a transactional perspective, Black History Month and those who observe it outside of the culture make celebrating and recognizing our blackness more of a conditional acceptance rather than recognition and appreciation.
From what I can tell, that is not necessarily better than the past, but it does create a new dialogue between communities of culture and how we recognize one another.
Historically, blackness and all races other than white are seen as other. But if we are all seen this way, then what are each of these monthly cultural celebrations without being put into context against other representations and recognitions?
They become celebrations.
If we were to celebrate our cultural history as we see it, it’s fascinating that while we would all celebrate together, every person from child to adult would see different things. Some young children would see the representations they know, from the black cartoons and the historical figures we all know who pave the history they’re growing up. It may in fact be black history in the making for young children to all see themselves accurately and diversely represented in myriads of cartoons or younger shows at all.
For those of us who are older and conscious of the present-day affairs in all that has changed in only the past few years, it’s hard to say how we see the world right now. But we may be able to critically look at the movements from civil rights to Black Lives Matter and wonder where history’s new paths truly begin other than somewhere maybe we haven’t been before. Somewhere hopeful.
I say all of this to put forward the idea that Black History Month is one of both celebration and recognition. As a whole, how I may see the month represented may look different in comparison to each of my brothers or my friends, as each person’s perspective is different when put in the context of their lives. But as time has gone on, the meaning behind the month has not come without hardship and there is plenty of work to be done for equity still. Regardless, I believe how we see the separations of cultures, appreciation of allyship, and recognition of one another may be changing.
It is our choice in how we put that change into perspective and what context we choose to push it forward in— for now, I’m going to go with celebration. How about you?
So happy Black History Month and Happy Lunar New Year everyone. Have a good weekend.