Race is a tricky topic. Maybe you disagree, but it’s likely you don’t. And tricky doesn’t mean it isn’t important. The key piece in discussing any topic (tricky or not) is to insert as many voices into the conversation as possible. My thoughts on race are likely different from yours, which are different from your brother’s, which are different from his friends’ — so let’s all chat. It takes multiple perspectives to paint the broad picture of any topic, even race. And while I could share my thoughts on the meaning and importance of Black History Month, I will instead welcome four women to share their thoughts. Due to the color of their skin, and the skin of their ancestors, their opinions differ from mine, as a white woman. Due to their cultural upbringing and understanding of history, their opinions differ from each others’. Allow these thoughtful, intelligent women to engage you in their conversation of race by sharing what they want you to know about Black History Month.
“Black History Month will always be relevant. Every year, some people say, ‘Why do we still need this?’ But, why is it so threatening to let black people shine? The observation of one culture is not the degradation of another. It’s a chance to celebrate all our nation enjoys because of the advancements of black people — to appreciate those musicians, those scientific contributions, those leaders who have long been swept under rugs. And not to be crass, but the majority of blacks currently in America didn’t choose to be here, our ancestors were brought. So, pausing once a year to acknowledge how we not only survive but profoundly contributed to American society is a beautiful reflection of reconciliation and respect.” — Mikaela Clark
“Black History is life lived out loud in everything I do; it is not resolved to seeking knowledge or celebrating excellence one month out of the year. I do feel it’s a great time to have thoughtful conversations and become intentional in gaining knowledge for yourself — beyond the generalities normally shared during this time. This especially rings true for our youth, who are witnessing very divisive acts playing out in their classrooms, their community and the White House. They need to have positive reinforcement of quality values now, more than ever. Designations are great. However, getting to a place of understanding and appreciation for how each of our histories intertwines is an ideal I hope is realized far beyond the month of February.” — Ashley Lawal
“For me, Black History Month is a time for all Americans to remember to ask: ‘What has been left out of the story?’ I spend much of my professional life researching, writing and teaching about Southern food and music. February becomes a great time to debunk myths passing for history.
Myth: Country music as we know it was historically all white.
Fact: Black musicians are present on recordings of country songs from the earliest days. Jimmy Rodgers’ recording of “Blue Yodel Number 9″ (considered by many to be one of the most important country songs of all time) is a perfect example. Black Lillian Hardin Armstrong is playing the piano. Adding a horn? Louis Armstrong!
Myth: Fried chicken is the quintessential soul food.
Fact: That would be the yam. We ate yams in Africa, on slave ships, in slave cabins and as a freedom food in Harlem. We eat yams today. Another dish commonly eaten by Africans enslaved in these Americas? Fish baked in leaves and wild berry salads. We know because we’ve found the fish bones and berry seeds in “slave cabin” archeological digs.
Black History Month is a time to weave in pieces of the tapestry that is the American experience that has been missing. The restored pieces make the fabric stronger and more vibrant. February is a time for all Americans to remember, or discover, just how African all Americans are. Coca-Cola has African roots!” — Alice Randall
“When I was growing up, our den was full of hundreds of books. They lined mahogany bookcases that stretched from floor to ceiling on the east wall, and while they covered a gamut of topics (my own library, right at home!), at least half were dedicated to black history. The usual suspects were there — The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Alex Haley’s Roots, Booker T.’s Up From Slavery — but so were some more obscure works. Biographies of Madame CJ Walker, Garrett A. Morgan and Matthew Henson. Textbook-like readings on the black grandeur of ancient Egypt. At least three separate works by Dick Gregory.
On nights and weekends I pored over these titles — sometimes self-directed, sometimes lead by my mom, who would point me in the proper direction should a black history lesson at school prove woefully inadequate. (Which was always, always the case.) I was fascinated by those accomplished figures and achievements, and even more so by the fact that my friends, and even teachers, were oblivious to such rich history. American history.
When we confine the study of Black folks and their accomplishments to a single month of the year — when it’s not a day-to-day, week-to-week or month-to-month focus, like, say, algebra or World War II — we are inevitably relegated to a shallow exploration of the same cast of characters. We paint broad strokes over the lives of MLK, Rosa Parks and Harriet Tubman instead of taking deep dives into the vast archives of the past. I’ve never celebrated Black History Month. Thanks to my mother, I learned early on that Black toil and intellect are the true foundation of this country, and that is not a subject that can be examined in February alone.” — Andrea Williams
Thank you to these women for sharing their perspectives and joining us for a conversation about race and Black History Month. Hopefully, you are inspired to join the conversation too!
Meet more amazing, local women here.