“Blackness isn’t just the stereotypes placed upon us”
When I was a little kid, I was told to believe in fairy tales. Stories of knights saving princesses, dragons being slayed and the promise of a happily ever after. That promise of a utopia where goodness always wins. In elementary school those stories were translated into the belief of a better tomorrow. So, for one month out of the academic year, we opened our textbooks and learned about the basics of civil rights. The integration of public schools so that people who look like me can be seen as equal to their pastel-colored counterparts. The belief that even though we’re all just different shades we still fit into this 64-pack crayon box. We learned about the march on Washington and the dream of Martin Luther King Jr. that spawned an era of fighting for our rights and quotes used out of context to this day. We learned of separate water fountains and store entrances for white people only and colored people had to just find somewhere else to utilize goods and services. In learning these hard truths, the bubble was burst, and I could no longer find the beauty in my own skin color. For years, I had to navigate what does my blackness mean to me? What does it mean to be this color and feel I’m not fitting into the molds and expectations set for me? One day I just didn’t want to believe in these fairy tales anymore and that’s exactly what the narrative of Black History Month was. I wanted to learn how to change that for myself.
Since 1976 February was designated Black History Month and has been taught in schools and public spaces all over the country. Countless selections of books, streaming catalogues and lesson plans dedicated to sharing and uplifting black narratives. In some ways it’s validating to know that the rich history and culture of an enslaved and oppressed people is being learned about and celebrated. But on another end of that spectrum is the belief that we sanitize too much of said history to be palatable to everyone. The reality is black history is being made every single day for good or ill. From the stories of how we were brought to this country, the strides in innovation to the rallying cries of Black Lives Matter in the face of prejudice and violence in this world. We are still here surviving within the trauma.
As a Black and Queer person, I don’t have the luxury to go through life believing that we’re living in a world where our safety matters to anyone but each other. From the Queer community I navigate the fetishization and regular dehumanization of my race by relegating us to just sexual objects or a conquest. From the rest of the world, it’s this innate fear that I’m not good enough to be in the spaces I occupy. The pressure to be perfect so there’s not a reason to even think or utter the words dumb and n**ge* in the same sentence. If you don’t know what word I just censored, open your eyes. I don’t want to hear “Does that still happen?” “No, we live in California that doesn’t exist here.” And finally the greatest hit, “I don’t see color.” If I can’t pretend, then neither should you. Our skin colors hold value whether we want to believe that or not. Even if we’re created equal, we are not treated equal. Continuing on my path of growing up, I was fortunate enough to have educators who really told the truth about American history. How you can’t tell these stories without the nuances of other cultures storytelling.
Blackness isn’t just the stereotypes placed upon us. It’s a tapestry of untapped potential that needs to be cultivated and pushed forward. A question for our readers: How many of you had black educators teaching you about black history? Of my time from K-12, I had one black teacher. It shouldn’t matter, right? But it does. As I praise some of the teachers I had in my life, I can also critique my past for what it was. Growing up believing that those who look like me are out there feeling as inadequate as I did. The Black History Month that I want to learn about is the one I now have created for myself. The one where I continue to educate myself about individuals who have pushed the boundaries for our people. From modern day change makers like Alicia Garza, Kia Labeija and DeRay McKesson continuing legacies trail blazed by MLK Jr., Marsha P. Johnson and Angela Davis to name a few albeit contemporary names. These are the names I want to keep hearing. I want to keep reading the works of great authors like Toni Morrison, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Langston Hughes and so many more. Consuming the media of individuals like Jordan Peele and Issa Rae. Sending our flowers to trailblazers like Hattie McDaniel. Celebrating the music of Janelle Monae, Prince & so many others. Whew I haven’t name dropped that many people since I tried to get into the club one night. Just kidding. The point is there are so many of us and we still haven’t gotten our forty acres and a mule. but we’ll discuss that later. We live in a constant state of renaissance during the Black and African diaspora and that’s the Black History Month that I want. We are more than our past and more than the wounds that have cut so deep. Can these wounds heal, or will we continue to stitch them up and continue the scars?
Black people don’t have a monopoly on pain, but we share a commonality within our history. But I also want to showcase the joy and it’s important that we hold both together. As I write these words, I’m reminded about the most recent deaths of black people in this country. Tyre Nichols and Keenan Anderson, say their names. They are our history. Their lives, their deaths, their stories, and our fight to continue sharing their narratives. How do we show the beauty of life within the suffering? Can our history also be a celebration of the lives we’ve lived, holding onto the good and the bad? I no longer believe in a world where we are solely loved for the skin we live in. But I do believe in a world where we continue to show up for one another, because who else will at the end of the day?
What do you believe in? How will you celebrate Black History? Revel in our culture and celebrate our lives as you ponder those questions. Beyond February, continue to celebrate blackness. Open your hearts, minds, and even your wallets to causes that uplift the black community. That’s the Black History Month I believe in.