Cease and Desist: How NOT To Celebrate Black History Month

Written on 25 February 2015, 08:16pm under Homegrown

I have a real love-hate relationship with Black History Month. I understand the kinship for a month when America gives focused and concentrated attention to the remarkable achievements and contributions of Black Americans. Cue violins.

I also know the month of February to be a long slog through cringe-worthy moments. After repeated spells of stupidity, even the heartiest devotee of Carter G. Woodson would decide enough is enough. With February 2015 coming into the rear-view mirror, let’s take a look back at the month that was.

Lip-Smacking Racism
This one is a recurring soap opera. A school creates a Black History Month menu with some combination of fried chicken, collard greens, black eyed peas, watermelon and / or cornbread. For the uninitiated, apparently these are all foods that only Black people eat, only Black people like, and signify Black History Month is underway. Are these foods racist? No. What’s racist is associating them with Black people, fueling a stereotype that is rooted in “a lot of racist history.” Why we have to review this every February is bewildering. But I’m sure we’ll encounter it again. Just serve fried chicken, collard greens, black eyed peas, watermelon and cornbread year-round and avoid the mea culpa.

“Today, You Get to Be A Slave”
This one is mind-numbing. I can’t begin to summarize the far-reaching depths of poor decision-making that would lead “educators” and “scholars” to create a digital simulation game where students can adopt the role of a 14-year-old slave girl, earning badges that could lead her to freedom – and funded with tax dollars to make it even more despicable. Rafranz Davis, an instructional technology specialist, uncovered this outrage and immediately took to social media, putting a spotlight on this damaging educational material and calling all parties to account. This episode left me disgusted – inviting students to role-play an escaping slave is just gross and wrong! – but not surprised. Slavery is taught in schools in such a splintered and fragmented way that the inhumanity, injustice, brutality and cruelty are completely erased. Slavery is as much a part of American history as Washington crossing the Delaware. That would be the same George Washington whose dentures were made with the teeth of his slaves. Yet another pertinent fact they never teach in school.

Kids Will Be Kids
This one could have happened any month. But it happened in February. Oh, the irony is rich. In Texas, white students decided to welcome a mostly-Black high school by flashing “white power” signs during their basketball game. One student claimed the sign was part of a “cheer routine” based on the home team’s blue and white team colors. No one could explain “power” however. Maybe the Flower Mound basketball team doubles as the Power Rangers? If youngsters are going to be racist, they really need to be quicker on their feet. In the end, out of feeble excuses, the students admitted they intended to spell out a racial slur. And the district seems fixated on the fact that the signs were “displayed for no longer than 30 seconds.” Just long enough to instill hate and fear.

T-minus four days until “Farewell, Black History Month 2015!”

I do not always feel colored. Even now I often achieve the unconscious Zora of Eatonville before the Hegira. I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background.
— How It Feels to Be Colored Me by Zora Neale Hurston

Bethesda Chevy Chase High School is in Montgomery County, Maryland – a suburb of Washington, D.C. In this video, Black and Hispanic students share the painful struggles of being a student of color in schools where they are thrown against a sharp white background. Where they must dodge the daily indignities of racial microaggressions – a fancy word for insults, rudeness and insensitivity that demeans a person’s racial identity or heritage.

That children’s saying, “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” Lies. All lies. These students show in heartbreaking and vivid detail how deeply words can cut. And what are left behind are the memories and scars that form from racially-charged words and incidents.

These young people are brave to speak their truth to “…give voice to those who suffer from ill perceptions” and “expose the harm of racial stereotypes in high school as well as bring awareness to the achievement gap.” Be brave enough to listen and care. And courageous enough to act on what you hear.