Black History and You

Valentine's Day and Black History Month, lonely and white

Along with the USA, Canada and the UK celebrate Black History Month. If you are one of those who would ask rhetorically “What does that have to do with me?”, please consider the following question.

What do you and I have in common with Dr Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, Dick Gregory, Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglas, Jack Johnson, Louis Armstrong, Josephine Baker, Nelson Mandela, Maya Angelou, Kunta Kinte, Ricky Gervais, Richard Dawkins, Muhammad, Moses, Jesus, Madonna, Adolf Hitler, Kim Jong-eun, L’il Kim, Kim Kardashian and the Ku Klux Klan?

We all came from Africa. (And if you deny that fact, enjoy your 4,000-year-old flat Earth. Careful you don’t fall off the edge.)

Familiar faces from African-American history

Familiar Faces from African-American History, Caitlin Tamony bbc.co_.uk_

You may hear it claimed that “Black History Month” is vitally significant, especially for a continent not yet free of ignorance-based tensions and hostilities. You may hear that Black History Month has outlived its usefulness — “We all saw Roots on TV.” You may hear that Black History Month is self-defeating—it should all be just History. As Morgan Freeman said, “I don’t want a black history month. Black history is American history.”

As with so many debates, there is truth to be found on all sides. Only the ignorant claim the ignorance is all behind us now. And history should, indeed, be history for one and for all. If only there were no ignorance amongst historians, publishers, educators and media.

painting by Charles T. Webber in the Cincinnati Art Museum_underground_railroad

The Underground Railroad, Charles T. Webber, Cincinnati Art Museum

So let it be History Month, and let’s all look into a bit of history—look up something you know nothing about, or investigate whether certain “facts” you like to quote are as solid as you have always believed. Just notice the limitations of the sources you check. Who wrote what you read and what are the foundations of their claims?

Regardless of how direct or indirect you consider your African heritage to be, why not take a moment or two this month to do yourself and the world a favour: learn something new about our collective past.

4 Comments

Filed under cross cultural understanding, geography, perspective

4 responses to “Black History and You

  1. Dave

    Yes, always a good idea to check your facts. But it’s always about taking someone else’s word, isn’t it? Like in ‘Memento’? I’m told that there’s trouble in Syria, that Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, and that the pope just up and quit. But I have no real way to verify any of that. How do you know what you know?

  2. seth

    My brain told me…

  3. Ace

    Want to see an excellent comment on the state of racism in America today (among a ton of other things), watch the Wire.

    • I’ve been told this more than once. I might have to set some time aside and finally watch that. Thank you for the suggestion.

      I think the dynamics of racism north of the border, because of population scales and other factors, are — as with so many comparisons between the USA and Canada — the same but different.
      My ex-wife, from Mexico, spent her first couple of years in Toronto believing racism played a part in her difficulty finding a good job. But she concluded over time that Toronto is not Texas. No one knew she was Mexican; she’s just one of the 50% of Torontonians who are from some other place.
      Then again, last week a friend of mine was in a Toronto waiting room and some “grumpy old white woman” looked at the faces of my friend and other people of colour and grumbled “I don’t know what country I’m in.”

      Ignorance and fear are like dust and mould; we just have to keep wiping them away everywhere we find them building up.

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