Black History Month is an interesting time of year. Whatever hasn’t been decked out in pinks and red for Valentine’s Day is covered in earth tones and “African” geometric prints. It seems like an odd way to celebrate the history of a group of people who have added so much to the cultural landscape of the country. BHM often seems to exist solely as a marketing hook for retailers and other companies. My Blackness isn’t defined by the colors red, black, and green. And I get all of my geometric prints from Forever 21 just like everyone else. But that’s just one of my problems with traditional Black History Month. Growing up in predominantly Black public schools, BHM was a monotonous production. Plays re-enacting Harriet Tubman and the underground railroad or Rev. Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech were always on the agenda. These are iconic figures that all Americans should know about. But they’re the same ones that are heralded over and over, year after year. It’s as if the whole history of the Black diaspora in the United States can be attributed to 50 or so former slaves, integrationists, Civil Rights leaders, and Black panthers. The occasional athlete or entertainer is oft thrown in for good measure.
I’m simply more invested in Black futures than I am in Black History.
Too often, BHM feels like another opportunity to reinforce standards of Black respectability. For me, BHM is a time of celebration. It’s uplifting the Black people who survived before us, the fact that we’re still surviving and holding out hope that we’ll continue to do so. I want a Black History Month that works critically, engaging contemporary figures and events with historical ones. I want to move beyond the oft-repeated stories of Black exceptionalism and start getting creative about the parameters of Black excellence. Let’s envision Gucci Mane as a hip-hop innovator and descendant of the '70s New York subculture, as opposed to framing him as its antithesis. Instead of watching (another) rendition of Roots, let’s watch 70 Acres in Chicago, about the history of Cabrini-Green housing projects in Chicago and the thousands of residents displaced from their homes after it was demolished to make room for high-rise condos. I want a Black History Month that celebrates that people who are making history. I want to uplift the unnamed individuals who perished at the hands of a racially unjust system. The legacy of African diasporic people who created change in the United States is real. But I think that given our current state of affairs, I’m simply more invested in Black futures than I am in Black History. Let's reimagine Black History Month for the culture.