A Defense of BHM
Childhood memories are fleeting, ephemeral, sometimes painfully intangible things. You realize that as you slowly get older, and your memories turn on you like disloyal foot soldiers on a despotic autocrat. Certain memories are so vivid, it feels like you could relive them at a moment’s notice, and some are so paper-thin, you wonder if you ever lived them at all.
A vivid memory I have as a child is learning about the colonial past of Sierra Leone. It’s easy to forget the violence that was an intrinsic part of colonialism, but that really impressed itself upon me as I read of the history of the land of my birth. Beyond that, what impressed me even more was the resilience with which colonialism was fought against. This can gets lost in the shuffle. History sometimes intimates that there was a greater passivity than actually existed. My teacher told a story that day of a man, one man, who stood up against the British, despite incredible odds. His bravery and courage inspired his people. In time, he lost, we lost, but the lies of history that paint us as passive, are just that. Lies. His story mattered to me that day, and it matters to me today. I saw myself in him, a boy searching for something to believe in, searching for a hero.
History, written as it by the lions and not the lambs, sometimes disappears the contributions of those it deems unimportant, but of course their stories matter. They matter to the young children who never see themselves in anything other than the negative way history and contemporary society wants them to be seen. History should matter to everyone, but of course it cannot.
The most important concept about Black History is that it was history. It happened, it was real, and it ought not disappear. But of course it does, aided in this by hegemony, misappropriation, and apathy. In a just world, there would be no Black History, there would be only history. In a just world, the contributions, struggles and tribulations of all people would be recognized. In a just world, historical erasure would not occur. This is not a just world.
When I was in grade 8, I researched and made a poster about George Washington Carver for a history assignment. It was a beautiful poster, painstakingly crafted with the seriousness of youth. One of my classmates, and looking back, I can’t blame her anymore. She’s as much a victim in this as anyone, asked me, “wasn’t he the one who gave the ‘I have a dream speech’”?
It made me feel like a boy out of time. If this was a world with Black History Month, I’d hate to see a world without. Though it seems to me that some of the people I interact with may periodically forget, in the end,I have never forgotten that I’m Black in a world that puts little value in this.
Why is there a Black History Month? Why is it necessary in this day and age? Why is there not a white history month, or Asian history month, or Native Canadian history month? I don’t think I’m wise enough to offer answers that would satisfy everyone, but I will say this: it is important for me that I can see myself in history, and it would help if this did not always occur as a villain or as a victim. If there is no Asian history month or Native history month, that is unfortunate, but the answer is not to be subtractive, but rather additive. There are the well-known giants of Black History, but there are also the unsung people and events. They matter to me. They should matter to everyone. The price to pay for losing them to the ravages of historical racism is too great.
There is a Black History Month because all the pieces matter and someone, somewhere, stood up and fought for it and eventually, a whole lot of someones joined them and agreed that indeed ‘All the pieces matter’. If that makes you angry, if that twists you up inside and seems like a great injustice, that matters little, at least to me. The problem ultimately lies with you.