>Sunday was the official start to Black History Month. Aside from the standard “Did You Know” commercials I saw a local ABC affiliate, there was little fanfare or discussion on the airwaves. It’s not surprising, since Sunday is usually a slow news day–and the Super Bowl was a preoccupation for 99 percent of this country.
This year’s Black History Month is, without a doubt, is accompanied by the 800-pound elephant in its room: the inauguration of the nation’s first black president. With Obama leading the country, some news sources have written articles that claim this month’s celebration will have a new meaning:
From USA Today:
Obama’s election, and this year’s 100th anniversary of the NAACP, means there has probably never been more reason to celebrate the annual February observance, black leaders and historians say.
“We celebrate whenever a glass ceiling is broken and the presidency may be the highest glass ceiling,” said Benjamin Todd Jealous, president and CEO of the NAACP, which is celebrating its 1909 founding this year.
But those leaders also agree those milestones don’t mean that racial inequalities no longer exist. While Obama’s breaking of the color barrier in the White House may make the NAACP’s job easier, Jealous said they will pressure Obama just as they have past presidents.
Today starts Black History Month — the first since a black man was elected U.S. president.
It is a confluence that promises to enliven the annual monthlong celebration for the next four years. Schoolchildren officially have been taught black history for three decades. But never before have teachers been able to point to the president of the U.S. as an example of the contributions of black Americans.
We watched the 44th president of the United States recite his oath of office and what became clear was that the election and inauguration of Barack Hussein Obama, like history, is a living trope.
The new face of U.S. leadership highlights new features in the nation’s countenance. He is a rapid departure and necessary change of representation – a black man elevated to the highest position of leadership in a nation that at its birth was built on exploited labor and repression of various groups, most severely its African and indigenous descendants. Yet the centuries of struggle and determination that King helped propel and which Obama and the nation carry within us cannot be lost in uncritical pronouncements of a colorblind promised land reached. Historical amnesia should not be the victor.
Many of the same Americans who proclaim Obama’s victory as the beginning of a post-racial America also view the history of Africans in the New World as simply U.S. history. It is. But it is so much more as well.
While I can understand the weight of President Obama’s presence will have on this year’s Black History Month, I don’t think it should change how people perceive Black History Month. There will be some who will point to the election and inauguration of a black man as reason to do away with the February celebration. “Our country has come so far to break down the racial barrier,” they would say. “Black History Month is now irrelevant.” Those are the same people who routinely participate in white washing parts of history they are subconsciously afraid to face–slavery, genocide, racism, sexism, etc.
This year’s Black History Month should be all the reason to explore our past and to explore who African-Americans of the past were and how our people have become the people we are today. We should explore our forefathers and study the sacrifices they made in order for this country to even experience a President Obama. We should study the famous inventors, authors, activists, doctors, teachers, athletes and the common men and women who stood up to Jim Crow because they wanted to make a difference in their children’s lives.
For me, Black History Month (and the entire year) is a time in which I can look back and thank those who came before me and fought for me to enjoy the life I can enjoy. It’s a time in which I can read about my fellow brothers and sisters who brought this country some of the best inventions known to man, who broke down racial barriers in their respective fields and who stood up to oppressors and fought for the rights that had been taken away from them centuries before.