In honor of Black History Month
Even before my consciousness grew, there was an annual time when I felt a bit more important.
February was the first time I saw myself. Whether it was in curriculum, movies, books or poetry, I felt less alone during my time in suburbia. My skin became a topic of conversation; us black kids bonded with each other, and we became accepted through stories on pages that looked like us.
But after the 28th day, and sometimes the 29th, the black ink in books turned white and we black kids turned back into gifted statistics. It wasn’t until I knew the culture behind my skin that I realized Black History Month meant so much more outside of these 28 days.
I saw the white customer curse my name from across the cash register. He thought me below the poverty bar until my white manager diffused the racial time bomb.
The basis of the plight of black people tends to be tied to the vast net of systemic racism. This is specific from the broader term of racism. Racism is not mutually exclusive to a specific group of people. It gets dangerous when some benefit from racism and can hurt others. It is embedded into the crux of society and is the fabric of what America is built on.
Equality is more than just having token black diversity cards for photo ops. It is more than just claiming affirmative action as a cure for the cancer that is racism.
It is having everyone on the same playing field. It is about not having colors of skin associated with crime. More importantly it starts with admittance that a problem exists.
Lunch tables acted as sound boards that my bones could make symphonies from that my white classmate imitated and the classroom loved him for it.
As young as seven, I learned that the things black people created were popular to many. Now, I am aware that popular culture is progressed from the creation of black people.
Music, the recycling of black actors, sports, hashtags, and even memes have a unruly notoriety after being festered through black social circles. The issue is not from the praise of other cultures for what we can do.
The issue is knowing the difference between appropriation, appreciation, and adaptation. Justin Timberlake is an example of adaptation. With the help of black producers, he put his own spin on the R&B genre and always acknowledged where the sound came from.
Appreciation is simply enjoying the culture and understanding the origins. What makes these a non-issue is the acknowledgement of the origin. The appropriation comes in when culture is stolen. The deeper issue is when the stolen culture is then used to gain profit. The everlasting task is trying to find that line between appreciation and appropriation when the line continues to be blurred.
I lived on the outskirts of what black was supposed to be.
Growing up, I always felt strange. I felt not black enough.
I listened to a wide range of music, I wasn’t into sports besides soccer and I was the only one in my school who made films. I was looking for my blackness to be validated by other black students and the notion of of white students claiming that I wasn’t “that black” confirmed my thoughts.
It wasn’t until I went to an HBCU that I saw that there are black band members, painters, poets, movie buffs, etc. The stigma of one type of black is told through media that we are forced to see.
There were strangers loving each other as if they were kin. It was safe among the congregation.
The church is more than just a place of worship in the black community. It gives strength and the hope that the circumstances will be better.
Many black people have stories involving their church. This is a place of unrelenting support and love on a level deeper than sympathy. It’s understanding rooted in the same way of life. This is why pastors are so favored. They speak specifically to a certain kind of person. With all of the people in there having similar nuances, everyone can relate as a whole.
This is why many times the black church has been attacked. It is not a coincidence, it is strategic. These domestic terrorists know the politics that reside in churches and their plan is to destroy from the base. Church is a place where safety is never questioned.
With attacks like Birmingham and Charleston, an attempt to crack that safety is made.
In the fight for black progression, we cannot move forward without everyone.
At the bases of black liberation, there have always been groups that aren’t given appreciation. Namely, queer blacks.
People like James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, Bayard Rustin and Marsha P. Johnson were beyond instrumental in awakening the black mind. They advocated both for black rights and at the time LGBT rights but didn’t get their recognition if they were open about their sexuality.
Johnson was the one of the first people to fight back during the Stonewall riots. When I learned of this event, Johnson was never mentioned. Not until I did research on the altercation did I find how instrumental she was in the act of liberation. Rustin was the strategist in the March on Washington and acted as Martin Luther King’s adviser.
As much as we have read and heard about MLK, why was his right hand man never mentioned? Queer blacks fight just as hard for black progression — if not harder — because they are fighting two fights at once.
My mother showed me the kind of love so unconditional that it was godly.
Black women are both the most sacred and most disrespected entities of black culture. Yet they serve as the backbone of everything concerning revolution, intellect, and progression.
Blackness cannot survive without women. They bring the life, yet their purpose is questioned and marginalized. Dorothy Dandridge, Shirley Chisholm, Maya Angelou, Michelle Obama and even Beyoncé are some of the most prominent figures in U.S. history, not only for black women, but for people in general. Often, because of their color and gender, their accomplishments are overlooked or downplayed.
For instance, one of the most dominating athletes is Serena Williams. There is never recognition or even notable talk about her being the greatest player ever. Maya Angelou is never considered as one of the greatest contemporary writers. Madame C.J. Walker hardly gets talk of showing what it means to be a self made boss and creating billions of dollars out of nothing.
Black women have done wondrous and remarkable things and it’s time they should be recognized, at least in their own communities.
The state of blackness is complex and forever changing and evolving. The fight for equality and a better standard of life will always be at the core. Whether one day we fight for gay rights, transgender rights, representation, or just the uplifting of black people as a whole, we must do it collectively.
Opinion columnist Dana Jones is a print journalism junior and can be reached at [email protected]