white noise presents: the first carnival of our very own!
As previously trailed, this is a retrospective on Black History Month, February 2008.
What is Black History Month?
In 1926 Carter G Woodson and his organisation (then known as the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, later known as the Association for the Study of
African American Life and History, or ASALH) established Negro History Week. According to ASALH:
Woodson selected the week of February that encompassed the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, two giants in the history of African Americans. Lincoln, of course, had issued the Emancipation Proclamation that moved the nation away from slavery, and Frederick Douglass had been the greatest leader of African Americans. Symbolically, the selection of Lincoln’s and Douglass’ birthdays as the week to study Black history reflected Woodson’s belief that the history of African Americans was American history.
In 1976, on the 50th anniversary of the first celebration, the event became a month-long celebration and Black History Month was born.
But isn’t Black History Month problematic?
Yes. Some dislike Black History Month. Powerful criticisms include accusations of shallowness, and of brevity (one month, the shortest one at that!) as well as just the very concept that Black History should be studied as a separate topic for a special time instead of as something that is always relevant, throughout the year.
In “Ghetto Month“, Lola of Whatever Lola Wants writes about how much she hates Black History Month. She argues that looking at “black history” in isolation fails to connect the history of black people with the whole history of America/the world – in short that it has broken away from Woodson’s intention which was that:
We should emphasize not Negro History, but the Negro in history. What we need is not a history of selected races or nations, but the history of the world void of national bias, race hate, and religious prejudice.
And, as we see on What About Our Daughters, it is quite possible to get the whole thing completely wrong. There has to be a pretty clear line drawn between respectful participation and missing the point completely – but white people don’t always see it. Nor, as Seattle Slim points out at Happy Nappy Head, do some magazine editors.
So why we doing this, exactly?
Because if we didn’t we might end up believing that history is what we are taught in schools, that history is what can be found in the books at the library or the local bookshop – which is White history, and white men’s history at that. Not long ago I went into my local bookshop (a largish Waterstones) to see if they had anything worth browsing in the way of Black British History. There was one book. And all the rest are about Tudors and Victorians and Wars and stuff. One book. That’s why we need to use opportunities like Black History Month to pay some attention to “the Negro in history.”
Darkdaughta publishes in “Dear kkkanadians, before you drape me up over my spellings, please address this“, a note about Afrocentrism in schools. If all schools were less Eurocentric and paid more attention to the contribution that Africans (continental and diasporic) have made to the history of the world, the history of the human race, then we wouldn’t need Black History Month. But they don’t. So we do.
But I sincerely believe it is still needed, and it serves a wonderful purpose. History has been whitewashed, and school curriculums have been sanitized of many significant bloodstains. From my semester-long experience of teaching an African-American history course disguised as an college intro English class, I’d venture to say that college-age kids today know the bare bones of black history. However, it isn’t fleshed out in a way so it touches their lives. The experiences of our ancestors remain dusty, sepia-toned, and ancient to them. It seems uninteresting and irrelevant to their realities. The students I taught had heard about a time when lynchings were commonplace, but they’d never heard Billie Holiday sing “Strange Fruit”* and empathized with the dread that reverberates through that song. They knew Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream before he was assassinated, but that’s pretty much all they knew. They’ve heard that Malcolm X spoke of freedom by any means necessary, but that was the sum of their knowledge… yeah. I’d say Black History Month is still very necessary.
(*That’s the video, right at the top of this post.)
Bring on the history!
Next, what could be a gentler start than some picture posts?
Meanwhile, over at The Lesbian Said What?, are some portraits of notable African American lesbians, gays and transfolk.
Life accounts, biographies, always bring powerful insight, a way into the perspective of those whose experiences we do not share. So here we are, a choice selection:
Whatever Lola Wants is here again with a hymn to RuPaul “Your Country breakfast is Ready!“
Anxious Black Woman of Diary of an Anxious Black Woman has pretty much done a carnival all by herself. Wonderful. Here is her round-up post. I particularly recommend “Saartjie Baartman: The “Hottentot Venus”“, “Ar’n’t We Women? Reflections on Sojourner Truth“, and “Who Speaks for Sally Hemings?“
And that brings us neatly to the subject of women of colour in American politics – with particular reference here to presidential races past and present.
Here are two posts on the wonderful Shirley Chisholm: Mamalicious has The People’s Politician: Shirley Chisholm, and Knock the Hustle has Shirley Chisholm: The first Woman to Run for President.
And this is an important piece that you may already have seen, from WhatTamiSaid on the position of black women in politics – this post has particular relevance to the current “dilemma” that white feminists like to pose black women in the race for US president – to support their black brother or white sister (ahem). Tami also reminds us that Carol Moseley Braun – the second woman of colour to run for president – also beat Hillary Clinton to the “first woman to run for president” spot.
Thinking of that “dilemma” again, it’s worth looking at a much older choice that WOC feminists had to make. Should they support a constitutional amendment granting black men (but not women) the vote, or should they hold out for universal suffrage? In these posts on Frances Ellen Watkins (Part 1 and Part 2), Mes Deux Cents points out that anti-slavery and women’s rights campaigner Frances Ellen Watkins supported votes for black men even at the risk of delaying votes for women. Why? “Recognizing the ever-present danger of lynching, she reasoned that the African-American community needed an immediate political voice. With that would come the possibility of securing further legal and civil rights.“
Finally, something to remember for the 2008 race: yes, Cynthia McKinney, who is currently running for president of the USA. To find out more, take a look at Secondwaver’s post, this video linked by La Chola (brownfemipower), McKinney’s election site Run Cynthia Run, and the support blog All Things Cynthia McKinney.
That’s all folks: Thank you for coming to the carnival.
If you like what we are doing, then spread the word: link us on your own blog!