Black History Month

Black History Month is here again. As usual, it’s almost over. There go the usual suspects—Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Booker T. Washington, Ella Baker, W. E. B. DuBois, A. Philip Randolph, Martin Luther King, George Washington Carver, Fannie Lou Hamer, a little Malcolm X, and now Oprah. No Nat Turner, no Fred Hampton, no Jackson State. That’s it until next year. I don’t think there’s been any black history since the ‘60s, other than lower-colon Powell and Condoleezza Rice. Jebus.

So Unca Bubba gave us the shortest month—no surprises there—to take up the slack. Hundreds of years of omission and lies and misdirection versus Black History Month. We can’t talk that fast.

I have mixed feelings about Black History Month. I like the attention paid to black people who didn’t sing or play ball. Not that I have anything against athletes or performing artists, but they get year-round attention, and I’m always looking for the edge. So, if every now and then somebody learns a surprising tidbit about black people, and especially about Black people, that’s good. On the other hand, Black History Month is still the colored entrance. When is White History Month? All the time.

If you modify history, it doesn’t count, because it’s still his story, if you see what I mean. You’ve got to quote history: No rewriting, no paraphrasing. Otherwise, it’s a special history, on the special shelf. A biography of Zora Neale Hurston is not gonna be with the other biographies. It’ll be in the colored section, as always.

History can include many different voices, but it obviously doesn’t have to. Describing reality in most media is primarily deciding what to leave out, and an all-inclusive history is unattainable. Nobody knows what you were doing over on the other side of town in that back room that time, and history is incomplete without that information. Since history is always incomplete anyway, you can relax.

I can imagine the end of Black History Month, not soon, but eventually. It won’t be relevant. When I pull up to a stop sign or traffic light and hear booming hip hop, it’s usually coming from a vehicle driven a young white man, more often than not in a pickup truck. And when my sons began using black slang, it was because they’d heard it from their white classmates. That’s some serious assimilation, maybe not the way most of us think of it, but assimilation nonetheless. Every time I hear a little white child say, “I be,” rather than “I am,” I smile. That kind of cultural appropriation is a far cry from equality of any sort, but it is a sign of something new.

Each generation is new. That seems to be the point. Not only are we all individually different, generations are different from the ones before, and in ways we can’t know in advance. It’s just as well.