As a proud, card-carrying member of the Black Press for more than 25 years, I have grown to both love and abhor the arrival of February when America, perhaps in an act of penance, holds its annual “lovefest” known as Black History Month. As much as I long to review the annals of African-American contributions, sacrifices and the achievement of “firsts” secured despite overwhelming odds, I still lament the fact that the Black community, for the most part, knows but a small portion of our actual, true, collective history.
We are the progeny of a people whose origins and story began on the other side of the world in a place called Africa before our ancestors and therefore our saga, would be forced to reconfigure ourselves and itself in a strange and often frightening new land. Yet, we tend to view the Motherland much like the ancestors of the white “businessmen” who first kidnapped us, destroyed our families, treated us like animals and forced us to work in the industry of chattel slavery — an industry upon which the United States, both those living in the South and the North, would increase their coffers, grow fat in their excess desires and become wealthy — all on the backs and with the blood of a people whose only “sin” was being of a different color. Meanwhile, we would embrace stories of Tarzan which only reinforced the so-called superiority of the white-skinned, all-knowing savior — much to our detriment.
False narratives written by those with pale skin, peaked noses, eyes of blue and green and heads adorned with waves of blond became the norm, serving as the predominant, if not sole foundation of our reconstructed history — stories which asserted that we were “less than,” backwards, inferior, without education, without governments, without positive family structures, lacking any semblance of religion, architecture, philosophy, theology or medical prowess — strangers to both agriculturally- or economically-based ingenuity.
All of this, however, has been nothing more than a carefully-constructed lie. Even more, while whites knew and continue to know that they have been ingeniously forcing us to ingest, digest and regurgitate ugly, distorted images that caused Blacks to eventually believe in our own inferiority, four centuries later, many African Americans have yet to awaken from this nightmare. So, while we can rattle off the names of a few “acceptable” Blacks — Martin, Malcolm, Sojourner, Harriet and Thurgood, for example — we do not know the fuller story — the real deal.
Even more, I fear that we have little interest in discovering the truth — a path toward knowledge that will be painful, arduous and which will require us to give up “histories” with which many of our people seem to have grown “comfortable.” This is the reality that we continue to swallow hook, line and sinker. In other words, Black history remains an epic saga whose truth remains untold, unknown — and therefore impossible to pass down to subsequent generations. The story that we know, at least many of us, is no more than a lie, conceived and constructed with ulterior motives, holding an entire race in chains even when the actual chains have long been removed.
And so, we have evolved with a narrative that still defines a once-mighty race, stripped of its lineage — beautiful and distinguished by our many “shades of Black” that adorn our skin — hues of Black which grow with intensity in the sunlight bearing colors reminiscent of God’s complete garden of caramel, cocoa, copper, bronze and midnight-blue.
I have been a writer for the Black press for more than 25 years and I continue to serve because I know that the work is still incomplete — that the story, our history, has huge empty spaces and places that must be filled in so that we can regain the pride that was once commonplace.
Once upon a time, people who did not look like us, who did not live like us, who did not dream like us or believe in the world like us, realized that we were a superior people — a learned community — and they envied us and all that we had accomplished. I would like to think that we would have shared what we knew with “them” and that the world would be a better place today — a kinder world, a safer world, a cleaner world. But in the pursuit of dominance and privilege, humanity has taken giant steps backwards. And we have suffered.
It’s Black History Month. Read, listen, reflect, question, surmise and reach a new and different history — then share that truth with others whose only “sin” has been, for hundreds if not thousands of years, that we were a people of a different color.