It’s February 2, 2011.
For those of you who either don’t know, or don’t want to acknowledge this, it is the second day of Black History Month.
This is the month that is singled out to look at the historical accomplishments of African Americans in this country. This is when teachers talk to students about the achievements of such folks as Booker T. Washington, W.E.B DuBois, and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. If we’re lucky, these teachers also talk to students about Malcolm X, Fannie Lou Hamer, Ida B. Wells Barnett and others.
I know that this year the subject of President Barack and First Lady Michelle Obama will come up. It has for the last two years. Can’t talk about Black History Month without talking about the one piece of history no one saw coming….
But if you’re black in America, and a native of this country, chances are that at some time during this month, you’re going to have a white person ask you the following question: “Why is there a Black History Month?” followed closely by “Is it still necessary?”
Sometimes, there are people who pose this question looking for a fight. When I lived in Klan Kountry, a lot of white guys asked me that question in hopes of getting me to tell them where to go and how to get there, thus confirming my lack of humanity in their eyes. But after awhile, I found that ignoring them was the better course of action, especially since if you’re supposed to be superior to me, why is it that I’ve discovered soap and water and you haven’t?
But most white folks who are asking that question are doing so from a position of innocence. They really want to know why we need a particular month to recognize what people of color have brought to this country.
They especially want to know this if they’re not originally from these parts. And it helps if the person asking is a really, really funny comedian.
Last night, Craig Ferguson, devoted the entire hour of his Late, Late Show to this question. As a new citizen of this country and someone who hadn’t grown up surrounded by the unique brand of racism that was practiced during the time that Black History Month was created, he innocently wanted to know why the observance existed.
Dr. Cornel West was who Ferguson went to for answers, and what resulted was a pretty good show that talked about everything from the origins of Black History Month, why taking the N-Word out of “Huckleberry Finn” cleans the text….and the history surrounding it …far too much, and whether or not you can find an orgasm machine.
(I did mention that it was a comic having this discussion, right?)
I didn’t get a chance to see it live because I was trying to write a paper at the time. But I made a point to check it out today. I thought that it was good because you could tell that Ferguson had done some homework. He was also able to connect it to the history of his native country, which was also nice. And West, as he often does, made the discussion as much about humanity as it was Africanity. I am going to find a way to use his phrase “former Negroes” in my writing somehow. I don’t know how yet, but I’ll find a place for it!….
I was glad to see his questions answered.
But to be honest, I look forward to a day where separate months to celebrate the achievements of everyone who makes up the salad that is America is no longer necessary. Not because I don’t like having my own month despite it being the shortest on the calendar, but because I thought that by now we’d have our act together as a people.
You see, in 2012 I celebrate my 30th anniversary of being out of high school. When I left Pemberton Township High School, which is located just outside of what used to be called Fort Dix in New Jersey, I left a much different person than the person I am now.
That’s because Pemberton Township High School was a very different place. We were what in Yiddish is called a mishegas (thank you Jeff Winbush!), or a collection. Pemberton was truly multicultural not because of busing or anything like that, but because of the United States Military. Any race, creed, color, national origin or religion that you could think of here in the salad that is America was represented in the hallways of PTHS. Uncle Sam doesn’t play favorites….and dares you to!
And it was amazing.
But it was also a bit sheltering. So much so that when I got hit with the reality that where I came from wasn’t necessarily the norm, it kinda hurt.
I went to The Ohio State University for college. Columbus, Ohio isn’t much of a city when the university isn’t in session, but when it is, it is the center of the universe. I went to college with future NFL Hall of Famer Cris Carter and saw first hand what women are willing to go through to get themselves a man with deep pockets, or potentially deep ones, which is a subject I’ll tackle in another post.
Anyway, I had the most popular yearbook in Lincoln Tower, the dormitory in which I spent my freshman year. Not because it was such a good yearbook (although I was on Yearbook committee and was kinda proud of it), or because the wrestling team was kinda cute (which it was…).
My yearbook was the talk of the town because it was the only yearbook that featured a diverse student body. I can’t tell you how many times I got asked “Were the cops there a lot?” because no one could believe that a student body that diverse could exist without there being a lot of tension.
Now I’m not going to say that everyone at Pemberton got along because that doesn’t happen anywhere. We had our knuckleheads. Every place does.
But for the most part, the students at PTHS not only got along, but genuinely liked each other. That it wasn’t the same everywhere kinda bothered me. In fact, it bothered me so much one time that I ended up in the Dean of Students Office.
(Anyone who knows me well is probably not at all surprised by that fact.)
However, the “you’re not in Kansas anymore” lesson was brought home. It was innocence lost. And I am still sometimes annoyed by that.
But all that I can do is my own personal part to bring forth the change that I’d like to see. That’s all any of us can do.
I have the first part of Ferguson’s interview with Cornel West at the top of this post. Here are the last three, one of which also includes a musical performance by George Clinton and the P-Funk All-Stars of the classic “One Nation Under a Groove”. I apologize in advance….