Processing Black History Month

Black History Month was established in 1967 as a way of formally spotlighting the accomplishments of African Americans. The following is my take on what it means to observe Black History Month in 2020.

In America, slavery persisted from 1619 to 1865; a total of 246 years. Segregation was the way of life from 1865 to 1954; a total of 69 years. The current state of race relations [let’s call it Integration] has only been the way of life for 65 years. Understanding that timeline means understanding that people of colour have been “free” for far less time than they have been enslaved. It means understanding that progress is happening at a rapid rate (see: the election of Barack Obama), but we are still only 2 — 3 generations away from segregation in North America. It means understanding that even though we’ve made significant progress as a society (or as a myriad of different communities under one North American umbrella), there are still remnants of racial tension, bias and discrimination that will continue to persist for generations.

The Black Lives Matter movement states that “[they] are working for a world where Black lives are no longer systematically targeted for demise”. This statement sums up the mission of the largest movement for black activists of our time, but it also offers a sliver of insight into the “black experience”. We are currently living in — without a doubt — the best period in history for black people in North America. But that does not mean the pursuit of equal rights & freedoms should stop. As we move through this stage of race relations in our corner of the world, it’s important that those of us who are invested in social, cultural, and political equity don’t pull up the ladder once we’ve reached the top. Leaving a foundation for future generations to continue to evolve is the only way to sustain (and accelerate) social progress in any meaningful way.

I am proud to be black. No ifs, ands or buts about that. That said, I understand that sometimes that pride can be veiled behind protest, activism, politics and even anger. The reason that those other parts of my blackness can overpower my pride is because, frankly, I believe that they are more important in the hyper-political environment that I live and work in. I admitted recently on an episode of the Dirty Love Podcast that “I’ve spent a lifetime overcompensating for being black”. This could be the result of a voice in my head telling me that I need to prove something. It could also be the result of a lived experience that has forced me to keep my guard up about the preconceived notions that others might have about me before they know anything about me; before I’ve opened my mouth to speak. But despite the knee-jerk reaction to be defensive, protective or informative about my blackness, I am, above all, proud of my blackness. So to pay tribute, here’s a list of things that make me extremely proud to be black in 2020:

Black Panther
“Still Processing” (New York Times Podcast)
Beyonce in general
Barack Obama’s legacy
Kendrick Lamar’s music + message
“The Read” (Another great podcast) NSFW at all
Moonlight winning best picture at the Oscars
WETHEURBAN ‘s Instagram account
The short - but growing - list of black startup founders
Everything Michelle Obama says
The overwhelming and undeniable excellence of black athletes across the board in North America (pick a sport)
Oprah Winfrey
Queen & Slim
The Black List
The limited amount of f*cks that Rihanna appears to give on a daily basis

To me, the best part of black history month is the opportunity to celebrate blackness. Celebrating the capacity that black people have to overcome struggle, and celebrating the strength and confidence in character that that struggle has created. Celebrating Africa and the role that that content has played in shaping human history (if you haven’t already, go read Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari). And, celebrating exactly where we are, today, as a broader, multicultural community, because collectively, we have done some important work to include and respect the different perspectives that make up our society. Black history month offers an entry point and a reason to investigate, celebrate and better understand black arts & culture, black people, black history and the beauty that threads each of those pieces together.



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