The Black History Front

Black History Month is a beautiful thing. It’s so nice to see all of the colleges, universities, community centers, museums and churches putting on programs that embrace African American history and culture for a change. I enjoy seeing commercials, fliers, billboards and other cultural artifacts that validate the Black experience, just as much as the next person. But much of what I’m seeing today is a little out of line with the principals inherit in the spirit of Black History Month founder, Dr. Carter G. Woodson. For example there is nothing about McDonald’s, with their “da-da-da-da, dum” theme hummed by a gospel choir over a montage of black children sinking their teeth into big macs that celebrates Black History (especially when one considers the increasing rates of obesity, heart disease and diabetes in Black communities that McDonalds, directly or indirectly, contributes to). However this is only one small example of the corporate appropriation of Black History Month.

February has fallen prey to the same forces that dilute our religious/cultural holidays like Easter and Kwanzaa to mere caricatures of bunnies and presents; the same forces that transformed our beloved Hip-Hop from a cultural movement, to jewels, rims and hoes. Black History Month has been robbed of its fundamental principal: to promote and embrace the study of African American Life and History. Now more than ever, it has become an opportunity for corporations to cash in on one of America’s most recognized annual traditions. This appropriation is why some scholars such as our August, 2006 interviewee, John Hope Franklin, refuses to schedule speaking/book signing engagements during February. First of all, he believes that Black people should not limit the celebration of our history to one month, and furthermore, he does not wish to contribute to the convenient packaging and distribution of Black History. Instead we should advocate for daily, monthly and yearly pursuit of our history and culture. This must be an ironic hit to the pockets for Dr. Franklin because I’m sure he (like many public intellectuals and Black historic figures) gets more phone calls in the month of February than he does in the other 11 months of the year, combined. So how do we negotiate this crossroad between making the best of a commercialized Black History Month, and taking a stance against it’s appropriation? Do we boycott, on some John Hope, and work on making Black History a priority during the other 337-odd days of the year; or do we respect Dr. Woodson’s designation of February and try to keep the fundamentals alive in our respective communities?

1 Comment to ‘The Black History Front’:

  1. Sondjata on 28 Feb 2008 at 3:18 pm: 1

    I’m not sure the Easter example is appropriate given the historical record regarding the ‘rites of spring” celebrations that the Christian ‘Easter” has been made to coincide with.

    Other than that I agree.

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Published on February 20, 2008 at 4:30 pm. 1 Comment.
Filed under black culture,education,history,Uncategorized.