By Dara Takafari
I keep trying and failing to get into the spirit of Black History Month, may Carter G. Woodson forgive me. We are eight days into Black History Month and I have not posted one Black fact or historic photo. I feel like a bum of an African-American literature major.
There is no “right” way to celebrate Black History Month.
But frankly, I am discomfited by the recitation of facts for 28 days, as if Black history doesn’t happen on a quotidian basis. It feels like distillation to me. We cannot boil down what people of African descent have contributed to America into 140-character blurbs. Or the same four characters: Martin, Rosa, Malcolm, Betty.
At the same time, I understand. We need these facts to counteract the narrative that everything good in America was built with White hands. We need to continually locate Black faces in American history to prevent their erasure. We can never stop passing our stories down orally and in writing; truth is our lifeblood. Africans across the Diaspora have held themselves intact because we have always told ourselves who we are.
Something has lately been irking me about the focus on Black firsts in America. It’s almost as if we cannot highlight Black greatness without the shadow of American racism haunting us. A Black first is laudable primarily because there was a White barrier to Black success in the first place. It makes me proud to know Black resilience! Triumphs! Overcomes! Adversity! But I am infinitely more saddened I cannot fully enjoy learning of Yale’s first Black woman Ph.D. in Astronomy without a hint of resentment. Chris Rock said it best:
That’s not black progress. That’s white progress. There’s been black people qualified to be president for hundreds of years. […] The question is, you know, my kids are smart, educated, beautiful, polite children. There have been smart, educated, beautiful, polite black children for hundreds of years. The advantage that my children have is that my children are encountering the nicest white people that America has ever produced. Let’s hope America keeps producing nicer white people.
And that’s the clincher for me. I am far more invested in a celebration of Black History Month sans the specter of nice White people finally opening the gates that barred us. I respect everyone who chooses to honor the ancestors by lifting up our Black firsts. There is dignity in this. But I don’t know if that’s how I will find mine.
There is more than one way to celebrate Black History Month.
I fully plan on celebrating Black History Month some kind of way. My kind of way. I may not do another single post on the Internet about Black History Month, but it struck me the observance doesn’t have to be public. Quiet homage is yet meaningful. My struggle to conventionally participate inspired me to create holistic ways for me and my family to enjoy Black history. This list is partly what I came up with and partly what I have seen other creative Black folk do around the Internet.
Alternative Ways to Celebrate Black History Month
- Focus on one historical figure all month. Read everything you can about/by this person. Become an expert. My choice: James Baldwin.
- Support and promote a Black business on your social media pages.
- Learn about Black contributions to genres considered “White,” like bluegrass or rock and roll.
- Sign up to be a mentor to a Black child. Teach him/her everything you know about your chosen historical figure.
- Donate to an HBCU.
- Learn about the contributions non-American Africans from the Diaspora have made to this country. #Haiti
- Find an interesting, non-hyped book by a new Black author and read that mug.
- Watch all the Black B movies on Netflix.
- Go to a Black or African history museum. I need to go to the Martin Luther King Center; I’ve never been!
- Take a road trip to a historic Black ____ in your state.
- Read Octavia Butler’s Xenogenesis series. Black people are in the future, too.
- Go to a Black church (or go home). Find a “mother.” Sit with her and ask her to tell you her stories. Oral history is powerful.
- Reexamine Martin vs. Malcolm, DuBois vs. Washington. Determine for yourself if they were really ever versus.
- Chronicle your own Black family history. Learn your grandmother’s recipe for salmon croquettes.
- Make Black History.
For more from wife, mama and word ninja Dara Tafakari, check out trulytafakari.com where you can find Dara’s writing on the crazy collisions of life, race, popular culture, and the occasional nerd activity–with an offbeat dose of humor and clarity.