Tainting the purpose of Black history month

  • Like revisiting yearbook pages of students in blackface
- Kashana Cauley

Feb 12, 2019-

Black History Month is the shortest month of the year. It’s usually only 28 days long! This gives stubborn people 337 days to pretend black history doesn’t exist, thanks to what’s commonly known as the one-twelfths compromise.

Black History Month always felt like an obligatory celebration. But this year people are really leaning in.

Take Ralph Northam, the governor of Virginia, who recently revisited one of the darker parts of black history: blackface. Invented in the 1830s by stage performers who didn’t like black people, blackface, Mr. Northam taught us, was reinvented in the 1980s by Virginia medical students who also didn’t like black people.

Usually people dress up as Michael Jackson by putting on a glove, jacket or wig. But Mr.

Northam method-acted his way into the role of a white person doing a bad imitation of a black person by painting his face with shoe polish, when he could have waited three years and used bronzer.

Mr. Northam wasn’t alone among Virginia officials in his past application of blackface. The state’s attorney general, Mark Herring, wore blackface to a party in the 1980s in order to not look anything like the rapper Kurtis Blow. The Senate majority leader, Tommy Norment, oversaw the publication of the 1968 Virginia Military Institute yearbook, which is full of blackface and racial slurs. Racism must have been a very popular major there.

Outside Virginia, Adidas chose to celebrate black history by introducing an all-white shoe called the “Celebrating Black Culture” Ultraboost Uncaged. After lots of people objected, Adidas pulled the shoe, maybe because it lacked melanin. The people who invented an all-white shoe to celebrate Black History Month must make waffles on National Pancake Day and wait until Arbor Day to cut down trees.

But Gucci refused to let Adidas take all the heat for bad Black History Month fashion. It introduced and then quickly pulled a balaclava-inspired knit top after it was criticised for looking just like blackface. Gucci just had to go down in history for inventing the what-if-Sambo-needed-to-rob-a-bank look.

Twelve years ago, Barack Obama opened his first presidential campaign during Black History Month. And on Feb. 1, Senator Cory Booker announced his own run for president, which means we have to secretly move Black History Month to March next year so Omarosa Manigault Newman can’t do the same thing.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the most festive of our government agencies, kicked off its 2019 Black History Month party by arresting the Atlanta rapper 21 Savage, saying he was in the country illegally. The arrest happened days after he rapped about the still contaminated water in Flint, Mich., on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” which must be a total coincidence.

According to ICE’s records, 21 Savage was born in Britain and overstayed his visa when he was around 13. This is all very strange, because as everyone knows, the first thing you do when you turn 13 is find your parents and say, “Guys, I think we overstayed our visa.” Thirteen-year-olds are obsessed with only three things: whom they’ve got a crush on, who’s wearing the coolest sneakers at school and figuring out whether their citisenship status means they’ll be able to legally vote in five years.

The actor Liam Neeson is really in the spirit. At the beginning of an interview, it seemed as if he was just promoting his latest movie. He must have remembered that the movie was opening during Black History Month and decided it was the most appropriate time of year to mention that time of his life when he went hunting for black people to kill.

But the cruelest thing about Black History Month, other than its four-week limit, is that it forecloses the possibility of Black Futures Month—30 or even 31 whole days when black people could celebrate by living anywhere, failing upward and cheerfully waving hello to cops who don’t see color.

Many black people celebrate black history all year long, but everyone else has to pack all those Harriet Tubman-themed parties they always throw into this fixed 28-day period.

Celebrate hard, because everyone knows it’s illegal to honor the history of the people who built the White House, the tobacco and cotton industries, and the railroads—and made most of the last 20 years’ pop hits—at any other point in the year.

— © 2019 The New York Times

Published: 12-02-2019 11:03

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