February 16 — Robin C Green
In early February I read several Facebook posts and Tweets from folks lamenting Black History Month — it's existence, the need for it, the short month selected for such a huge celebration, etc. Some complained only the "giants" were lauded. Others claimed they celebrate Black History every day, so no need for a separate February designation.
I don't get it. I've lived long enough to remember when my school library had only four little red hardcover books celebrating Blacks: Phyllis Wheatley, Harriett Tubman, George Washington Carver and Booker T. Washington. That was IT. My best friend and I were voracious readers and that was all we and Mrs. Kaplan, our librarian, could find among the thousands of books lining the shelves. It sparked a lifelong quest for more. We waited every Wednesday when the Bookmobile, Baltimore City Enoch Pratt Free Library's mobile library, came to our school for a few hours. Those librarians appreciated our hunger, and did everything they could to fill us. I learned. I grew. And from elementary through graduate school, the thing that baffled me over and over again was that the people I researched, read about, admired and aspired to be like never, ever, ever appeared on the pages of my assigned texts. It was as though I lived in an alternate universe.
I'd love to say things have gotten so much better, but that's not my story. I've raised two sons over the past couple of decades, and their resources weren't much better than mine. Year after year, they'd receive reading lists with barely a sprinkling of books written by, for or about African Americans. I had numerous parent-teacher conversations where I took on both roles. I developed reading lists for their teachers. Book reports and projects in my house were decidedly Black. Dress up like someone you admire? Aaron became Reginald Lewis, complete with suit, tie, mustache and cigar. How to win the academic challenge? Asa recognized a line no one else knew from a poem by Nikki Giovanni. One teacher confronted me about being exclusive. No, I told her, her curriculum was exclusive. Our contributions were, in fact, inclusive. They seemed to be the only way we could be certain any Blacks would be included in any topic she covered from September to June. And yes, it was (and is) critical to me that my children knew our contributions and saw us reflected in history, science, math, literature and art.
So I celebrate Black History 24/7/365. And I REALLY celebrate in February, beginning to end. Nothing informs me that those positions are mutually exclusive, so I get it all in. It vexes me when the ones grumbling don't promote the depth and breadth of our American experience on any day. It's like folks who grumble about being "forced" to show love on Valentine's Day, but do nothing the other 364, either. If we do not share our glories and tribulations, our journey to, through and beyond slavery, our countless contributions to every aspect of this country past AND present, revisionists will relegate us to that one chapter on slavery in the American history books and the footnote on civil rights where they'll tout dreaming as our greatest accomplishment. Our largest media presence will be as perpetrators and victims of violent crime.
Not here. I love to celebrate Martin, Malcolm and Marcus, but I can pull back the curtain on a stage full of characters you've heard of or not. God sent men, women, children, churches, organizations and movements to bring me here, and you need to know about them, along with the few you parade year after year. And we need to tell the truth about the folks who've "discovered" and "liberated" and "revolutionized" our country. Like Edmund Burke said, "Those who don't know history are destined to repeat it."
Thanks, Carter G. Woodson!