As a Black man, I hate Black History Month.
By its very existence, Black History Month devalues the contributions of so many people who look like me that it’s staggering.
Obama’s empowering message got twisted
Black History Month says that you can learn about the Founding Fathers, but you’ll never know about the Black men and women who built the seats of power upon which they sat.
The one time a Black person, former first lady Michelle Obama, deigned to raise the topic, saying at the Democratic National Convention in 2016 that she wakes up “every morning in a house that was built by slaves,” the statement was considered so controversial that news organizations started tripping over one another to write “fact-check” pieces.
Obama’s comment was meant to celebrate the progress that our nation has made. It was twisted into an angry, white narrative that gave rise to a president who traded on fear and hatred, rather than hope and inspiration.
(And for the record, the White House Historical Association says on its website that “enslaved people were involved in every aspect of White House construction – from the quarrying of stone, to the cutting of timber, to the production of bricks, to the physical labor of assembling its roof and walls. Enslaved people worked as axemen, stone cutters, carpenters, brick makers, sawyers, and laborers throughout each stage of construction from 1792 through 1800.”)
We lump the same Black faces together
Black History Month is a time to compress the same Black faces into the same 28 days, a symbolic reminder that while Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. Du Bois, Booker T. Washington, George Washington Carver, Mary McLeod Bethune and Harriet Tubman might be important enough to remember, they aren’t important enough to contextualize or situate in a larger conversation about American history.
Douglass goes with Martin Luther King Jr., even though they lived a half a century apart. But Douglass does not go with Abraham Lincoln even though they were contemporaries.
It’s the same thing today.
Go to a bookstore. Will Walter Mosley be with other mystery writers such as Agatha Christie or Raymond Chandler or Elmore Leonard? Or will he be next to Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King and Michelle Obama … in the Black section? The Black special section that’s up front in February and moved back to the back of the store, near the Native American section and the Latino section, for the other 11 months of the year.
Why do we need a Black History Month?
Black History Month means it’s time for Black writers such as myself to take a deep breath and calm our minds before we open our email inboxes. We anticipate angry notes from people who say they are white and that no one ever gave them a special month.
They also deny the existence of white privilege. And they ask us why don’t All Lives Matter?
Black writers such as myself have been dealing with these questions for years, personally, privately, in our work, in email correspondence and elsewhere, and we’re tired because we know that some people will never understand that if there is a Black History Month that means it must be situated in White History Year, and that if a white questioner and I are both 43, then I will have had 43 months of acknowledgement to his 473.
The first time I heard the question was from a white playmate when I was about 8 or 9 years old. He asked me why there was a TV network called Black Entertainment Television, but not a White Entertainment Television.
I remember telling him that if there were a White Entertainment Television then it might as well have been called ABC … I could have said NBC or CBS or Nickelodeon, but I was just a kid.
About white privilege
As for white privilege, I can understand why blue collar (and no collar) white people think that their race hasn’t granted them any particular benefits. They look around and see poverty and a drug epidemic and joblessness and hopelessness, and they want to know where, in that existence, could there possibly be privilege.
I would hope that they are listening when I say that I hear them and that I understand, as much as I can, not having been able to walk a mile in their shoes. I also would hope that they can understand that while they have countless problems, being white isn’t one of them and that’s the privilege.
They’ve never been denied access to their building at work and had to wonder whether it was because of the color of their skin. Or been pulled over and had to wonder whether it was because of the color of their skin. Or been questioned about their qualifications – which have been impeccable – and had to wonder whether it was because of the color of their skin.
All Lives (should) Matter, but they still don’t
As for All Lives Matter? Exactly, that’s exactly the point.
All Lives should Matter equally, but clearly they haven’t. And the reality that Black people feel the need to say that their Lives Matter means that they don’t – at least to the white people who would gladly deny the relevance of Black Lives, such as those who shot at a memorial marker of the birthplace of Jackie Robinson or those who flew a Confederate Flag while storming the U.S. Capitol, which slaves also built.
Black Lives also clearly are irrelevant to those who see all this and remain silent. And this silent majority is far, far worse, because it condones the violence and the potential for violence that I live with daily, even during Black History Month, which, as a Black man, I hate.
I always have.
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