Today, the end of February, isn’t just a regular end of the month. It’s the end of Black History Month specifically. This year has probably been the Blackest Black History Month I’ve had since I was a kid.
Black Panther alone (which if you haven’t seen it yet, you need to get your life together and run to your nearest theater) brought out the kind of images I’ve been seeing my whole life as a kid in the month of February : traditional African attire, t-shirts with historical icons and sayings, daishikis and headwraps galore. I’ve had a ball all month long. But as it usually does, this month made me reflect on the journey I’ve had with how I regarded this month.
As a kid I used to go back and forth with my feelings about Black History Month. On the one hand, for most of my youth, I loved it. Black History Month meant programs at school and church, which I usually participated in, and sometimes community events – all creating excitement about Black History and what it meant to be Black. I was fortunate enough to come of age during the 80s and 90s during a time when African symbols and t-shirts and even African attire were popular. So between learning history, which as a natural history buff I cherished, and getting to dress up in ways that celebrated all things Black, I loved it.
The dip in my love for Black History Month came when I was in high school. For the first time ever I stopped looking forward to February and I even recall a time that I wished the month would just end. Was it shame? No. Was it teenage cynicism? No. It was good old fashioned ignorance. Not my own, but that of my classmates. You see, I was placed in a lot of higher level classes throughout my time in school, which meant in most classes I (along with maybe one other person) were the token Blacks in the class. For some reason some of my classmates thought that meant we were supposed to be the spokespeople for all things Black. We got to hear the stupid “why is there Black History month but not White History month” (which to this day is a question that makes me want to slap whoever asks it) questions and jokes made about whoever was making announcements and giving the Black History fact of the day that morning.
But the worst was this guy that was in my Spanish class – the epitome of entitled, spoiled, and ignorant-as-hell white privilege. Hearing him go on about how his Irish ancestors were slaves too – which according to him meant he couldn’t be racist – (full pause) and all his other diatribes on race which he’d spew in between spouting rap lyrics to whatever the latest hit was – pushed me over the edge. The fact that so many of the other Black kids thought he was cool because he listened to Black music used to confuse the hell out of me. I guess they either weren’t exposed to the dumb shit I got to hear him say. Or maybe they did and just laughed him off. Whatever it was, he was the cherry on top of a pile of ignorance that after a while made me start wishing February would just go on by so these racist assholes I was surrounded with would shut the hell up.
To be honest, the fact that I ever felt that way embarrasses me now. The fact that I would let my pride be dimmed by people that had nothing to do with it makes me sad that I wasn’t stronger then, but at the same time angry that I didn’t say something back. I can take stock in the fact that things like this are a part of growing up and that I’m not the only one who dealt with things like that. And also, at the time I wasn’t armed with the language and the facts that I have now to explain eloquently and succinctly what I already knew on a basic level was the reason and importance of Black History Month For sure, the anger those situations created definitely affected who I became, which I appreciate. As a result of those situations I became someone that made time while in college to read and absorb all things Black (even at the PWI chose to attend), someone who’s considered the militant one in the family, someone that went natural in 2000–years before it became a trend and products could be found on a simple trip to Walmart or Target – because I was tired of trying to conform to European standards of beauty, someone who could probably wear a shirt related to Black history or Blackness in general, every day of the month if I wanted to.
I consider the impact of those situations, and how they led to who I became, to be the silver lining of that cloud. I love Black History Month and today am a little sad that the month is ending, despite recognizing that Black History is a 365 thing. If I could, I would lend teenage me one of my shirts and tell her to go to class wearing her fro proudly, with a list of comebacks ( and tips on my solid right hook – just in case) for anyone that tried it.