Monday, February 29, 2016

Beyond Black History Month

I started this post weeks ago but there was so much continual fodder that I kept putting it on hold. Now I'm finally getting it out.

Black History Month felt very different this year especially because I viewed it through the lens of having a Kindergartner. 

I believe that at this particular time Black History Month is very necessary and this quote from fellow blogger Danyelle, aka The Cubicle Chick, has stuck with me:

Posted with permission from Danyelle
Now that Nia's 5 I've felt an extra weight of deciding how to approach Black History month especially given the nuances of our family's Nigerian history as well as African-American history. In our family we still talk in terms of "shades of people," and while I've blogged about creating our own community of color up here in New Hampshire where there are about 400 black people in our town of 20K, when I saw the front page of Nia's Scholastic reader about Martin Luther King, Jr. was ripped off, presumably because it mentioned race, I felt unsettled. No other reader was edited in that way, and it made me wonder whose decision it was to do that. Why not mention to the parents how the topic was going to be handled if it's deemed too "sensitive?"

When I wake up each day I first and foremost think of my children and what I need to do to get them through their day. That's the overarching theme for my lifestage right now. I don't wake up thinking, "I'm a black woman in an overwhelmingly white environment. I wonder who's gonna oppress or offend me today?" I carry myself as a mother and wife in love with her family. I want what's best for them. I want them to have opportunities.

However, there are things that happen that cause me to jerk my neck around and be reminded of being "other" and while I can handle it, I wonder how my children will fare.

I'll never forget early on upon moving to New Hampshire when someone proceeded to proudly share their family history with me which included a violent altercation with the native population, and I stared back blankly thinking, "I am *SO* not the target demographic for your story."

Or the time someone shared that the first time they met a black person was in high school because "that was the person who sold them drugs."

I didn't prompt these stories, but apparently the tellers of them seemed to think I needed to hear them.

When Beyonce's "Formation" video and subsequent Super Bowl performance dropped and now in context of some of the things Chris Rock shared at last night's Oscars (which by the way, there was NO way he was going to please everyone, but I think it was important that people were made to feel uncomfortable), I viewed both as important given how the entertainment industry is inextricably linked to larger social issues which cannot be ignored. The level of ignorance that abounded regarding the larger themes and discussions brought up by both was was appalling, but not surprising. Subsequently, while the amount of free flowing commentary was rampant and although I'm not a Beyonce fan, I appreciate the discussion she spurred (similar to what happened when she breastfed).

It was the same level of appreciation I felt when I attended a packed local discussion about "Chiraq" yesterday at Discover Portsmouth and then saw that Black Girl in Maine's upcoming racial discussion in Portland is sold out.

People want to talk.

Even the ignorance expressed by those who shared their personal stories with me above has a role to play.

This is why I believe long-term, Black History Month should not only be relegated to one month. Pretty much every day of the year is white male history month, and I believe ultimately, the narrative of the beautiful cultures that make up our country, no matter how brutally painful they are, must be naturally woven into general U.S. history.

Moving towards this goal is even more important now that we're finding ourselves in an election year that has us swaying from the first biracial president of African descent to the possible extreme of one who spews hatred and vitriol. Education cannot simply rest in the hands of others. Self-education and taking a stand to educate all children beyond their regular school day is key. It's a topic that Uka and I feel passionately about, and in this information age there really are no excuses! Geographically, I believe living in major cities, and generally on the coasts, there's a sense that our nation is much more integrated than it really is, but being here in New Hampshire as well as having traveled through the middle of our country it's still quite segregated.

When I'm moving about Portsmouth, NH with my children and Grayson gets sweet smiles and pats on the head from people in the community, I can't help but wonder what will their reaction be when he grows big like his dad who's 6'8"? Will he be able to move about safely and freely or will people call into the police station reporting a "suspicious black man," when he's really just a boy?

Of course we'll teach our son how to interact with police officers, but to those who play into respectability politics, quick to victim-blame, as well as some of the arguments I've seen that have said, "If you don't like it, leave!"

Have a seat.

Racial profiling has touched my family in a similar way that James Blake was violently accosted last year. Being a star, being dressed in a suit, speaking "proper English" - it doesn't matter. There is an inherent thread of violence that runs deep in our culture and by knowing our history I believe we'll know how to best move forward and not repeat it.

My parents may not have been slaves and your parents may not have been slaveholders, but the ripple effects of both are going to continue to be felt for a long time.

So let's keep talking to stamp out ignorance.

Let's move to the point that U.S. history is just U.S. history, and not shy away from the ugly parts that make us uncomfortable. Additionally, let's realize diversity conversations go beyond just black and white; too often Native Americans, Hispanics, Asians and beyond are left out.