By PAT WATSON
We’ve all heard the silly complaint that “they gave us Black History Month in the shortest month of the year”. Yet, not knowing that this month was not given to people of African descent is the part of the very reason we must continue to have a time for focus on reminding ourselves of what we as a people do and have done over millennia.
Let us at least learn enough about Black History Month or African History Month or African Liberation Month to remember it was first initiated by African-American historian, Dr. Carter G. Woodson. In 1926, Dr. Woodson held the first Negro History Week, the genesis of what we now observe as Black History Month. His look through African-American history found significant occurrences in the month of February, those being the birthdates of abolitionist Frederick Douglass and U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, whose name is synonymous with the Civil War that brought about the end of chattel slavery.
Certainly, at this point in a long winter with some 11 extreme cold weather alerts already behind us and with that darned groundhog predicting six more weeks of winter (more like 12), this is a very good time to focus on the positives of our history.
Making a space to reflect on all the marvelous ways that people of African ancestry and heritage have been a positive and progressive part of human history is important for all of us, whether we identify as members of this great collective or any other historical heritage.
It is often our habit to overlook our achievements and focus instead on what we haven’t done, or haven’t achieved yet. Nevertheless, we could not be where we are unless some achievements had already been realized. The march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, for instance, which occurred 50 years ago this coming March 25 was a march toward civil rights and equal rights with a focus on the injustice meted out to people of colour as the result of Jim Crow laws, but the effect was greater equality for all.
No one should begrudge us our celebration and recognition of our achievements. It is indeed strange to think that there are people who would question why we would want to have those achievements recognized. After all, isn’t it in the Bible that we are counseled not to hide our light under a basket, but to put it where others can see?
It was Lewis Latimer, an African-American, who made lights shine longer in homes after he perfected the light bulb using a carbon filament. His invention also made light bulbs more affordable.
Shining our light in a land where people of African descent have had to strive mightily to have an equal footing is a necessary action. It is necessary for every one of us, but must be necessary for ourselves. To borrow a metaphor, a tree cannot exist without its roots; a person of African heritage cannot truly know herself or himself unless that person has a true perspective on the dimensions of that history. And, it is a tremendous history. From the magnificence of the pyramids of Egypt, to the mysteries of the Easter Island statutes, from the cotton gin to the first successful open heart surgery.
When we become overwhelmed by all the bad news that is seen fit to print about people of colour it is well to remember that news media have affected a mandate of telling the worst stories they can mine about human activities here on Earth. It is also important to see clearly that because of the lack of awareness of the greater fact of African life and the life of the African Diaspora, the stories they in the media tell are distortions.
We are therefore tasked with seeing to it that those distortions are put into their proper perspective. Having a month-long observance with that set purpose is yet another avenue for doing so.
A note on…huh?
Brazil has the largest African descended population outside of the great continent. Therefore, what is more outrageous about the report of a beauty contestant ripping the crown off the purported winner’s head, is there doesn’t appear to be a single person of colour in this beauty contest.
Pat Watson is the author of the e-book, In Through A Coloured Lens. Twitter@patprose.