Black History Month doesn’t memorialize race. It honors the impossible that transpired despite it. [published in The Republic newspaper]
As Black History Month commemorates, the question, “Why Should We Celebrate Black History Month?” seems less and less rhetorical as our cultural conversations become more divided. Currently, there’s a public debate on whether this holiday is celebratory or “segregationist.” And the parley seems to start with our opposing opinions with the term “Black.” And funny enough, each position has utilized the exact historical figure to vindicate their argument against the other, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
So, who better to clarify the term “Black” than King himself. Let’s go back to the 1950s, from a pulpit in the south. When Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. made an enthusiastic address to the Black American community.
Martin explained, “If the [Black American] is to be free, [you] must move down into the inner resources of [your] own soul and sign with a pen and ink,” expounding that “no document can do this for us.” Here, King illustrates personal freedom from racial identity. But before I elaborate on that point, let me share his concluding statement. “Be proud of our heritage,” he said, “I’m Black, and I’m proud of it. I’m Black and beautiful!” King didn’t double-speak here. He is very clear. Lay down your racial identity, be proud of your ethnicity.
There’s a difference between these identities. As someone can be “White” and “Scottish” or “White” and “Swedish,” or “Black” and “Nigerian,” the same goes for “Black” and “Black American.” Our race is what marked us without our consent; after African people were stolen from their original homes and enslaved as property for America. They were not a homologous group. They were manufactured together with no legal identity and orphaned from their native ethnicities.
But legally succeeding the Emancipation Proclamation — -a new community cultivated a new heritage, despite the county’s original plans. In 1915, historian Carter G. Woodson, pioneered this holiday, originally as Negro History Week, to homage the struggles and accomplishments of Black Americans. To honor our impossible trajectory from the property for this nation, to citizens of it. Black History Month doesn’t memorialize race. It celebrates the impossible that transpired despite it.
Who wouldn’t want to celebrate that?