“I just want a week without a major event that causes me to worry about my livelihood as a Black woman.”
I recently texted a friend this after a conversation about our naïve hope that February will be less brutal somehow because it is Black History Month. But since this conversation, it seems like other Black folks share the same apprehensive enthusiasm – instead of being excited for a month intended to uplift our stories, culture, and leaders, we find ourselves anxious about the days to come.
It is peculiar to celebrate on cue, for just one month; the shortest month of the year at that. We’re expected to celebrate historical Black figures, to yell about our struggles, to push forward despite our utter exhaustion and anger to take advantage of the one time of year that the country is paying attention. So often Black people have to immediately power through our trauma so that we can stand up and shout our pain when people are finally listening. Constantly explaining out personhood is something we are all too familiar with and a burden we are trying to release after an unrelenting year.
Black History Month has felt like it was forced on us rather than being for us. It is exhausting constantly being bombarded with reminders of what we don’t have and were never meant to have in this country. Growing up as one of the only Black girls in my predominantly white high school, and even in college, it seems like a betrayal to reject it. But it feels fake, tiresome, and it is just not enough. I felt, and still feel sometimes, like Black History Month was treated by my peers as an article you read and forget about as soon as it’s over.
These feelings are too familiar. Our history, no matter how you put it, still comes with an emotional sting that never truly goes away. For Black people, 2020 was maddeningly and infuriatingly much of the same. In the middle of a global pandemic, our businesses were closing, our families were torn through by a virus that was compounded by our lack of access to healthcare, and our community was mourning. Then, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks, and countless other names of Black people who were taken toon soon dominated media. This year felt like a soul-crushing re-opening of wounds we’ve never healed from. Yes, we now have VP Kamala Harris, the first Black and South Asian woman to serve in this position, but this month should serve as a teachable moment for us to acknowledge the complicated history of being the first Black anything, and the dangers of placing a nation’s hopes on one Black woman.
2021 Black History Month has a heavy responsibility of setting an example in this new world, while also reminding us that our own realities haven’t changed as much. Maternal mortality is still three times higher for Black women than it is for white women. Black people are still up to ten times more likely to be arrested for minor crimes. A young Black boy can’t even ride an elevator holding his phone without being violated.
At the Women’s Center, we encourage women to share their stories and heal from them. But it doesn’t end there. Our goal is to empower women of all ages today, tomorrow, and forever. We are writing our history now as the victors, not the victims.
Over and over, Black people – particularly Black women – have moved the wheel of history in real time. It was brilliant Black women whose joy, perseverance, and determination to be seen could not be contained. Women like Stacey Abrams, Amanda Gorman, Aurora James, Dr. Kissmekia Corbett, Rosalind Brewer, Megan Thee Stallion, and more whose spirits moved us to action. To vote. To buy Black. To believe. To Lead. To heal.
So do the Black women we know and cheer for, hype up on Instagram, and tweet about daily. Because, quite simply, we ARE them.
Instead of learning about ourselves through the removed lens of Black history articulated by white researchers, let’s commit to meeting and challenging our past this month. Let’s recognize that we can celebrate progress while still remaining resolute in our cry for personhood. Let’s share our stories, not as heroes, but as whole humans.
This Black History Month, we are acknowledging our past while weaving together new history. We are re-educating ourselves on the things our history books didn’t teach us: the brilliance of communities like Black Wall Street in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the unburdened joy of Black roller skate culture, the New Black Renaissance of culture happening right now, and the complicated history of hearing Black melodies and seeing our dances on mainstream white stages. We’re going to delve into all of that this month.
This Black History Month, we’re celebrating, not because the calendar is telling us to, but because our community compels us to. And if that means ignoring the whole thing and just doing us, so be it. Because if nothing else this month, we’re going to be our Blackest selves – just like we are every day.
Executive Director of the Women’s Center of Greater Lansing