Black cliche and Why Black History Matters, I guess...
In Only Son
J. Smith IV
Jan. 25, 2018 at 11:59 a.m.
As the shortest month in the year approaches, some consideration to extend Black History Month may be long overdue or perhaps, to bring the February month's historical cultural celebration of ethnic Black achievement to an end altogether. Admittedly, I am on the fence, overlooking two camps of thought on both sides of the argument. On the other hand, when a POTUS fails to comprehend the era in which Frederick Douglas lived, advocated and died, there really is little question in my mind that some of us need more Black History lessons than others. My ambivalence on the subject; however, has to do with how Black History Month has become a tired cliche.
The optimist in me would like to believe that the cliche has not reached a point where Black History Month has become a caricature of itself, with its vaunted, near mythical icons that many a public school teacher will give an affirming nod to with a quick "mini-lesson" in class or the perfunctory and non-descript Black History "project" for a grade (rubric included). The more creative, dynamic and energetic Black educators may even spearhead a Black History Program, albeit with very little buy in and support from the larger school's staff in its entirety. Of course, most students and staff are not required to attend the Black History Program....scheduling conflicts with other more worthy school projects and campaigns.....ya' know...
During my time as a Longview ISD teacher, the Black History Program in 2014 in particular, was an event that functioned within the now defunct Longview Global High T-STEM Academy. As such, participation and attendance was limited to approximately 300 students in attendance: primarily ethnic Black and Latino. A tenured and distinguished Wiley College professor was the guest speaker. The program's theme was a celebration of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (a.k.a. "HBCUs").
It was an embarrassing moment in "Black History" for me personally, when the distinguished Educator of some age and distinction, had to literally chastise the LHS student audience for boisterous behavior quips and other shenanigans. Of course, this form of disrespect was nothing new. My job was to manage the disrespect in the little corner of our world within the "Global Hallway" on a daily basis but, as a teacher in the audience with my assigned class; however, I could do little more than to attempt to quail any disruptive talking on my row of seats within the Mickey Melton Performing Arts Theater.
But alas! Much of the Black History program was literally held in the darkness (lights out) in the spacious Mickey Melton Performing Arts Theater. Of course, student cell phones were aglow, alighting faces of students in a literal sea of darkness, like Moon Jellyfish off some distant coastal island, south of Scotland.
The program droned on with a "death-by-Powerpoint presentation", thrown together by a smattering of military-style volunteered Global Academy students of the usual rich or successful ethnic Black icons and their ties to HBCUs, along with some badly recorded, barely audible college student interviews who, at that time, were currently enrolled in one or more of the historically Black, Greek-letter fraternities and sororities at Wiley College. The interviews appeared to be recorded by a student cell phone, where all of the interviews were Take 1, totally live and improvised and the students interviewed seemed to have no real notion of what value their experience was to themselves, much less anyone else who may have considered attending a HBCU: in other words, a "hot mess."
Of course, the obligatory nod to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, Malcolm X........y......a....w....n......(Did I leave out anyone?)....were included in the Black History Program.
Waimmin'......I forgot about Sir Frances Douglas and Frederick Drake! They too, were mentioned in the Black History Program, if my memory serves me. I am now aged 49.
Also, Oprah Winfrey and Madame C.J. Walker received their honorable mention, each for for their part in the collective achievements of the African-American diaspora. Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, Zora Neale Hurston and Gwendolyn Brooks and the like have altogether become an afterthought or perhaps, no thought at all, to the so-called "Millennials."
Do you now comprehend my intended meaning as I employ the term, "Black cliche?"
Most Black History Programs will usually include all of the aforementioned elements, icons and readings including Maya Angelou's "Ain't I a Woman" or "Phenomenal Woman" (Did you catch that, too?)...
...but no one seems to know the lyrics to "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing" by The Brothers Johnson or, for that matter, "We Shall Overcome", who wrote it or even WHY we have any confidence that we shall overcome.
It's as if Black History has become tired, tiresome......EXHAUSTED: perhaps too exhausting for anyone to put the soul and substance back into it that once inspired a people: my people.
Clearly, "my people perish from a lack of knowledge." For a want of knowledge and the right application of that knowledge to our current state of monumental choices and epic decisions for ourselves and to the glory of God HIMSELF, we seem to be stuck in the muck and mire of the daily grind: Instagram, Facebook, backbiting, chewing each other up while smiling and greeting and fake Christianity, rife with false prophets who claim they are for us, while denying the very people they purport to serve. We've done much of this among and to ourselves.
So, when I question whether or not Black History Month is of any relevance to anyone in the 21st century, especially my own ethnic Black people, do not become indignant. Rather, let us examine ourselves, to query our own motives, to dare to question our rationale for carrying on the tradition of Black History Month in the U S of A.
Would God that some senior students somewhere might put the football, basketball, track spikes, cleats, discus, soccer and volleyball down long enough to give an answer in the "Because History Matters" scholarship campaign and save your indignation for words that might be counted as worthy of a $5000 college scholarship to your choice of college or university: HBCU or otherwise.
I've included a URL link to the official sponsor's flyer for the college scholarship.