In her post about the myth of of a post-racial America, Jenn Russell pointed out that
far from solving racism, Obama’s election has instead served to highlight the ongoing pervasiveness of systemic racism and has perhaps even ushered in an era of heightened race-based aggression targeting communities of color.
Concrete numbers and police reports exist to back this up. What’s less visible is the ignorance and invisibility that has persisted in part because of the belief in a post-racial America. In response to society collectively ignoring the black experience and its contributions to culture, #BlackExcellence has picked up steam in the last few years to highlight them. The hashtag exists because noticing black contributions and achievements isn’t the norm. It’s an exception. The fact that this hashtag exists is yet another reason why we’re not past needing Black History Month. Below are three more reasons informing #BlackExcellence’s existence as to why this is so:
1. Because contributions by blacks are celebrated only one month of the year, and what black contributions are routinely lauded have been attributed to Europeans. This is easy when the libraries that originally housed this information have been destroyed. Whether through omission or intentional misinformation, you can make your way through the entire K-12 school system in this country without ever hearing black intellectuals, scientists, or artists credited for their contributions to US culture. When studying media, you can learn how Elvis and his hips scandalized music and television, but never that Elvis got his moves from Chuck Berry. Even hip-hop, a genre explicitly born of the experiences of black struggle in this country is now widely regarded by the mainstream public as the domain of Macklemore and Iggy Azaelea. You can learn about how revolutionary Henry Ford’s production model was for cars, but never that Garrett Morgan invented and patented the modern traffic signal. Black History Month is the one time of the year that’s allocated for digging deep enough to learn these things.
2. Because black success is still measured by achievement. In order to be taken seriously by society at large, African-Americans must excel at a game whose emphasis is not on their humanity, while others get to shift into more consciousness-expanding and compassion-centric lanes. While material success is still at the crux of what it means to be successful in society, the voices calling for alternative models of success are resounding louder. Though those voices do include some African-Americans, the standard narrative of acceptance dictates that African-Americans first be seen as worthy through assimilation, before they can reject aspects of mainstream culture, to create a more fully integrated one for themselves. Despite a rich tradition of holistic living, African-Americans are still more likely to suffer and die from “diseases of civilization” brought on by routinely overworking themselves — regardless of income and education levels. Further, even the most well-meaning white allies point out black achievements as support for inclusion when dealing with skeptics (versus their contributions or humanity).
3. Because blacks still have to be superhuman to be average. Chris Rock has a joke about living in a multimillion dollar house in a neighborhood where he’s 1 of only 4 black people. “Who are these black people?” he asks.
Well, there’s me, Mary J. Blige, Jay-Z and Eddie Murphy. Only black people in the whole neighborhood. So let’s break it down…Mary J. Blige, one of the greatest R&B singers to ever walk the Earth. Jay-Z, one of the greatest rappers to ever live. Eddie Murphy, one of the funniest actors to ever, ever do it. Do you know what the white man who lives next door to me does for a living? He’s a… dentist. He ain’t the best dentist in the world. He ain’t going to the dental hall of fame. He don’t get plaques for getting rid of plaque. He’s just a yank-your-tooth-out dentist. See, the black man gotta fly to get to something the white man can walk to.
Whether it’s President Obama having been president of the Harvard Law Review, while his predecessor was an average student, or educated black women earning 64% as much as an equally qualified white man (compared to white women’s already abysmal 78%), blacks quite literally have to excel at what they do in areas others get the benefit of being average in. So, when will Black History Month not matter? I don’t know that it will never matter, but I do have some thoughts about when it may actually be a relic of the past. It may be outdated once seeing black excellence is no longer an exception, but the rule. When digging deep to uncover blacks’ hidden contributions is no longer relegated to one month of the year… When digging deep isn’t necessary, because the truth is easily within reach… When blacks don’t have to work twice as hard to get half as far…. When society doesn’t need to be reminded that blacks are more than their successes or failures, and that those successes and failures are individual and not representative of an entire population’s abilities.. When all of these things are in alignment, then Black History month might not matter. Until then, it will.