Day 1321- Why We Need Black History Month

I stay away from political topics on this blog even though I find it very difficult, to separate politics from faith from spirituality. For me, your faith or spirituality should have sway over your politics. And, politics are how we collectively exercise our values. Given that disclaimer, this post isn’t exactly political. But, it’s a sensitive subject- race. In honor of Black history month, I created a series of memes that I post on Treasured Locks and on my personal Facebook page. Often people ask why we need Black history month. When I see the response to my memes, I’m reminded of why we do. I’ve been sharing them on my personal Facebook page and many of my friends have responded positively. I’m taking a leap by making this post. I wrote it yesterday and have been contemplating whether I should post it or not. This morning, I was going over it in my head and I heard Shayna tell me I need to publish it. Just then, one of the Shayna Six, her group of friends, who I haven’t seen in about a year, came out of her house going for a run. Shayna spent a lot of time educating these girls on race in America. That was my sign.

Saturday night Tywana and I were at a friend’s house. We were sitting around the kitchen table making having homemade pizza and a few beverages. We’ve been friends with these people for a very long time. But, we are divided politically, we know it, and we tend to avoid talking about politics. Race is always the elephant in the room. They are all of European descent. I am about 33% of European descent. None of my friends know that. In America, if you’re Black, you’re “just Black”.

They were talking about their trips to Europe, visiting their countries of origin, talking about whether they are German, or Italian, or Irish. How they thought they were Italian but, it turns out they’re German (It was like a 23 and Me ad). Typically, when my caucasian friends get into these conversations, I just sit quietly until the conversation is over. I’ve got nothing to say. As an African-American, I don’t know my country of origin. Being of certain skin color and being descended from slaves, I presume somewhere on the continent of Africa. People in American tend to think of Africa as a country. Africa is three times the land mass of the United States or Europe. So, when you say you’re from Africa, you’re not being very specific. It’s interesting the pride they’ll take in their background. When I was younger, I wondered why I didn’t have any interest in this. Our family didn’t tell stories about where we came from. We didn’t have an original language that we knew of from our ancestors who first arrived here.

It wasn’t until I was a teenager and I saw the mini-series Roots that I realized what African-Americans had been robbed of. The reason our families don’t tell stories of the old countries or have traditions, or language, or even religions, is all of that was robbed from our ancestors. They were forced to speak the language of their masters and forbidden to speak in their native tongues. They were forced to worship the god of their captors. I use lower case for god in this instance because this is not the tru God. God didn’t design one race to be dominated by the other. God would never tell people to remain in slavery. This was a god of their making who excused their inhuman behavior. The captives were given this new religion they were told would save them from the fiery pits of hell. Ironic, for people who thought they were sub-human to think they had souls to save. The real motivation for giving them this religion was to keep them docile. They were taught this religion to impose upon them the natural order “Slaves obey your masters”. They were raped, separated from their families, beaten, and murdered with impunity. Any pride they had from their native lands, culture, religions, traditions, tongues was thoroughly destroyed.

We then ventured into the opioid epidemic. Tywana and I have often made the observation that now that the epidemic has hit the “burbs”, the socioeconomic middle class, and frankly white people, it’s an “epidemic”. When Black people were smoking crack a few decades ago, they were criminals. They were derided as “crack heads”. Tougher laws were the answer. Declare them criminals and lock them up. If they won’t stop smoking crack, keep them in prison until they do. No one cared about why they might be tempted to smoke crack. No one asked what they were trying to escape from. They were criminals, plain and simple. Now, however, the opioid epidemic is hitting close to home. It’s coming to “good neighborhoods”. We were discussing a book my wife is reading with her book club. As the book my wife is reading likes to point out, the Mexicans are targeting the white kids. The book even claims the Mexicans are scared of Black kids. So, they’re not targeting them. Suddenly, it’s a problem because white people are victims. The book goes so far to say that the white kids don’t even have to go to the “bad neighborhoods” to get the drugs. The drugs are being delivered to them right there in suburbia.

The middle class is succumbing. They need treatment. We need walls to protect us from these bad Mexicans who are corrupting us. It hurts to hear that a drug problem that impacted people who looked like you was a criminal problem and needed to be solved by locking up the criminals doing drugs; but, a drug problem that impacts white people is an epidemic. It’s another reminder of the fact that people who look like me are worth less. (Full disclosure: I’ve never known anyone who smoked crack. I grew up in a middle-class neighborhood. I’ve never lived in “the hood”. But, people who look like me do). Tywana and I came home and just shook our heads. I was trying to make the point it’s all the same- crack, opioids, heroin. People in pain will seek escape. We need to figure out why we’re vulnerable to crack and opioids. We need to stop trying to stop the supply and stop the demand. All people, regardless of skin color, or drug of choice, deserve to be treated with dignity when they have a problem. No one is worth more or less consideration when it comes to being a victim.

This morning, when I was on my walk, I began thinking about the meme I’ve created to be the featured image of this post. I felt the pain of my ancestors. Instead of thinking about them as “slaves”, I tried to picture them in their homelands, speaking their native languages, practicing their religions, raising their families, then having all of that ripped away. For maybe the first time in my life I sat with that, and I wept. It’s unimaginable what was taken from them and the ripples continue to spiral out through time, impacting me right here, 400 years later. Today, a Black life in America is still worth less than a white life. The chasm created between us and our ancestors can never be filled. We and our children, will continue to feel this loss.

This is some heavy shit. That’s why usually when my European friends are carrying on about their ancestry, I sit quietly, politely, and let them finish. Every once in a while, as Tywana and I did the other night, I might remind them that I’m “just Black”. You see, even though I’m about a third European, the “one drop rule” applies in America. If you have even one “Black” ancestor, you’re just Black. It’s why Obama is “Black”. It’s why Tiger Woods is “Black”. We reminded them that we’re “just Black”. We educated them on the one drop rule. But, we left it there. We didn’t go into how much our people were robbed of and how conversations about visiting our “home countries” and learning about our ancestors are things we can’t relate to because they are things we can never do. Since it’s Black history month, I thought you might indulge me a bit.

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  1. I have kept this tab open for weeks to reply. When I first read your post, it hit me in the face. Painful. And, it’s not even my personal pain, but I can go there. The utter truth of racism in this country and its effect is apparent and hurts our children and families, Many want to deny, argue, even overlook it (doesn’t affect me attitude). I thought about your post, long and hard, even daily. Wanting to write about my experiences teaching black children, dating a black guy and the horrors. Forget all that. It’s not about me, defending how I’m not racist. yada yada yada. I’m still white and protected in a white privileged, supremacist society. Racism needs to truly be examined and with a fine tooth comb. In rereading your post, you’re right. You are 100% completely right. About the decimating of your ancestry and the attention of the opioid drug epidemic being more sensitive, forgiving if you will, towards the white middle class, I’m sorry. I’m sorry there is not only insensitive views and conversation but still ignorance and even lack of desire to understand and learn about the continuing black American plight (voting disparity, e.g.) and the neglect of examining it and its effects as you just explained. Thank you for bringing this to the table and also sharing with such heart. It’s the only way to understand, learn, and hopefully change. I do think it’s changing. But, then again, I’m always amazed about blackface coming out and even Megyn Kelly. Ugh! Just recently, I learned about cultural appropriation and what it truly means. I get it. Thank you, Brian.

  2. Hi Brian, I myself have never agreed with the one drop rule. When I first heard of it my thoughts were who gets to decide this is a fact? I’ve always told my daughter who is biracial that she was both black & white because she is. Just my take on it. I enjoyed your blog and I can see the validity in it. I myself understand the need for and enjoy what I learn during Black History Month. Just wondering though, They say that a question is not stupid if you don’t know the answer, therefore would a DNA test reveal anything specifically about a persons genealogy from the Continent of Africa? Can it pinpoint any information?

    1. Hi, Tim. It’s a good question. I haven’t had a DNA test done. Both my parents have, which is how I know my percentage of European blood. I can’t recall the details about Africa. I think it does give regions. But, I doubt they could narrow it down to countries which would give you guesses about culture, language, religion, etc. You might have an idea that someone in your past was from a country, but the family history would remain a mystery.

  3. Wow. Thank you Brian for sharing this. It definitely puts the importance of Black History month into proper perspective.

  4. Profound observations. We can’t change the horrors of the past but we can refuse to repeat them or condone them.