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Black History

You Can’t Celebrate Black History While Destroying Black Futures

Black History Month is the lone time of year when blackness becomes safe to celebrate by those who love black people and those who loathe us.

Love is the easy part. I love my people. February is the month where that love kicks into overdrive. It’s the 28 or 29 days out of the year when I can connect with like-minded, black people-loving black people and revel in our collective blackness. Black History Month is a double shot of pride from a top-shelf brand of admiration and esteem; it’s walking around with open containers of the best of us, drinking in our greatness with friends and strangers alike.

Black History Month becomes hard to swallow when those who loathe us come to the party distributing spiked punch. I’m not talking about the naked bigotry of unrepentant racists. I’m talking about the insidious loathing of black people that floats beneath the surface from March to January. The people who talk about the achievement gap of black children, as though our children our academically and intellectually inferior by virtue of being. The people who deride black women for their hair or their shapes with calls to assimilate into the dominant society. The people who condemn black men as hyper-masculine, children-abandoning “super predators.” [1]

I’m not talking about the naked bigotry of unrepentant racists. I’m talking about the insidious loathing of black people that floats beneath the surface from March to January.

The people who refuse to see color when convenient, but only recognize blackness when convenient.

The people who casually throw out the need to “honor,” “celebrate,” “emulate” and replicate the brave black people who helped America keep its promise of equality for all people under the law. It is the language of reverence concealing a baton of respectability politics. As is often the case with Martin Luther King Day, those who loathe black people focus extensively on MLK’s “content of their character” snippet to fancy the civil rights leaders faux-dream for a color-blind society. Those who loathe black people champion a Black History Month where the heroes do battle with a racism benign and divorced from the barbarous nature of the conditions of the time. This Black History Month divorces black progress from white supremacy and strips the humanity from our movements, fashioning black icons into infallible deities.

Worse, this loathing of living black people while lionizing the black deceased threatens to freeze Black History indefinitely.

You cannot honor Black History while actively tearing down Black Futures.

February, more than any other time of the year, sees public lauding of the past is violently at odds with the public policy of the present. If you celebrate, honor and claim to be inspired by the black titans of the past, it stands to reason that the best way to honor those legacies is ensuring the Black Futures of their descendants.

You cannot celebrate Black History Month if you decimate public school systems that house black children. You cannot celebrate Black History Month if a world where the existence of the school to prison pipeline [2] is tolerable. You cannot celebrate Black History Month if you champion curriculums that actively erase blackness from the text or push institutions on parents that champion compliance over creativity.

Those who loathe black people champion a Black History Month where the heroes do battle with a racism benign and divorced from the barbarous nature of the conditions of the time. This Black History Month divorces black progress from white supremacy and strips the humanity from our movements, fashioning black icons into infallible deities.

You cannot celebrate Black History Month while promoting policies that protect systemic and institutional racism by safely couching remedies and reforms in critiques focused on class. You cannot celebrate Black History Month by claiming to honor past movements and condemning present ones.

You cannot celebrate Black History Month with flowery rhetoric about black people and ugly actions towards black people. There is perhaps no greater example of this in present day than the state of the state of Michigan. In 2012, Gov. Rick Snyder issued a proclamation [3] recognizing February as Black History Month in Michigan:

“WHEREAS, during this month, we encourage citizens throughout Michigan to recognize, honor and remember the courageous black Americans who sacrificed much and rose above injustice to enrich our society; the state of Michigan honors the entrepreneurs, innovators, inventors and community leaders who have helped forge our great state and country…”

During his administration, Snyder appointed an emergency manager [4] that presided over the takeover of both Detroit Public Schools and Flint’s water system . Today, both are in a state of crisis with the infrastructure at DPS crumbling and Flint’s tap water undrinkable in one of the largest man-made crises in country history. While Emergency Manager Darnell Earley is a black man, all my skin folk ain’t my kin folk, word to Zora Neale Hurston.

I cannot and will not paint the Snyder Administration as a racist one. But, I cannot and will not pretend the Snyder Administration is an anomaly. All over the country, politicians, civic leaders and private citizens pretend to celebrate Black History Month by tearing down Black Futures. Whether they’re motivated by bigotry, greed, or a callous disregard for living black voices, the outcome is clear: From California to Chicago to the nation’s capital and back, Black Futures face a rising tide of uncertainty.

I cannot and will not paint the Snyder Administration as a racist one. But, I cannot and will not pretend the Snyder Administration is an anomaly. All over the country, politicians, civic leaders and private citizens pretend to celebrate Black History Month by tearing down Black Futures.

The gap that exists between how people talk about and celebrate Black History Month and how Black Futures are built must, at least rhetorically, close. We can no longer allow people without our best interests at heart to appropriate the struggles of our ancestors for political gain or for the sake of touting diversity. To quote kids in the cafeteria, “you can’t sit with us.”

If you refuse to honor and help build Black Futures, you have no business celebrating Black History Month.


[1] When Youth Violence Spurred ‘Superpredator’ Fear
[2] What is the School-to-Prison Pipeline?
[3] February 2012: Black History Month
[4] Meet Darnell Earley, the man behind Flint’s water crisis and a lot of other municipal messes

By AJ Springer

AJ Springer is a writer, communications pro, nerd and nomad. Stomping competition is his hobby and job. You can find him on the Internets discussing current events, combat sports, pop culture and the finer points of pro wrestling. When not doing that, he can be found searching for a new home for his written words.