Each and Every Day
February is Black History Month. It is also the shortest month of the year. So how do we honor black history makers, while recognizing that black history is relevant 365 days a year? Can we make a February gesture without legitimizing the idea that black history is an aside to our shared history, or an addendum to white centered history curriculum in use across the United States? Yes, if we approach the gesture as a both/and situation.
Black history expands far beyond one month, in fact, Black history is occurring every single day because it is a integral part of our shared history. Do we need to turn up the volume on Black history makers, past and contemporary? Absolutely. That spotlight and acknowledgement is necessary. If we can divorce ourselves from the notion that black history is a separate narrative from our national and global history, we'll be re-framing the whole story with all the complex and interwoven narratives that comprise the truth. And the truth never came from one singular story or perspective.
I invite you to re-examine your own history education, and take note of where you are continuing to carry forward narratives that center white position holders, and white supremacy values as the good actors and motivators in historic events.
As a child, I loved history for the stories I learned, the people who lived ordinary and notable lives. We celebrated Black history month every year, with the same list of names from which to chose our book reports. We loved the novelty of these familiar lists, beloved characters whose life's accomplishments were neatly tied to their own industrious behaviors. We lifted up all that our familiar Rosa Parks, Benjamin Banneker, Marion Anderson, Malcolm X, Frederick Douglas, Harriet Tubman, Maria Tallchief, Bobby Seale, and others had accomplished without ever really investigating the obstacles set before them by our white forefathers and mothers. How quick we were, I was, to celebrate their achievements, without examining the measuring sticks used to proclaim them successful. I understand now that all of the book reports I wrote were incomplete projects, ones that fast forwarded to a happy ending rooted in perpetuating comfort, glossing over struggle, and continuing the message that in the American 1980's and 90's we were post racial, which was a lie. It was a lie my teachers taught me.
When we know better, we do better. As a congregation, we have taken on the acknowledgement of a culture that has long operated to feed the notion that white experience sets the bar, defines what success looks like, tastes like, sounds like, walks like, and feels like. We have stated our goal of understanding how we got here, and how we can work to dismantle the structures and obstacles that our Black history makers have had to overcome. It is time for us to finish the book reports.
Certainly, there are exceptional reads out there. I've said it before and I'll say it again though, reading books is not the action that satisfies the work we are called to do. It is a part, but only a part of the work necessary to live into our covenant with one another.
When I taught public school world history, we were constantly beset by the crush of information that came at the end of the year. We took our sweet time at the beginning, setting the stage for agricultural societies, understanding world religious in a comparative study, but by April, we were speeding through the fall of communism, the war on drugs, and the sacharine wonderings of what impact will you, dear teenager, have on the events in the world yet to come. Final exams spanned nearly a century of human history in 40 questions, reviews rode roughshod over entire decades. We ended each year gasping for breath because, while the more current information was certainly relevant, it was not as neatly evaluated and prepared as early civilizations and westward expansion. And we were using textbooks that placed the end of current affairs in the late 1990's, nearly 15 years behind the times when I walked out of a history classroom for the last time.
My point here is, contemporary history is easy to miss in a classroom. And we have a rich variety of Black history makers in action right now, during our lives, who are not going to show up on that beloved list of book report options. And so I challenge you, and myself, to make a list of new names. Find the names that white-centered historians left out of the narrative. Seek out the living history makers, teach their stories to the children around you. Talk about these History makers at dinner in February and all year long. Recalibrate your definitions of success, break the old measuring sticks and listen for the voices of change agents who are telling new versions of old stories. And then, someday soon, tell me a story.