By PAT WATSON
As we move ever closer to that important annual month-long celebration and commemoration of African History taking place in February, it would be well to bring into Black History Month an appreciation of contemporary Black presence. We celebrate the history of African ancestors; let’s also celebrate our present time. There’s good reason.
In this, the Information Age, communications technology, including the Internet and the various forms of social media, has allowed for unprecedented exchange of ideas and knowledge. Anyone with a smartphone can get onboard.
The data on the everyday use of Twitter by African Americans, for example, show higher use than other social or cultural groups. It is likely that African Canadians would show similar patterns. People such as journalist Septembre Anderson, community activist Andray Domise or journalist/activist Desmond Cole are familiar local voices that keep the issues and perspectives of present Black life buzzing in 140 characters.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of silliness to be found, but when it matters, such as the tragedies in Ferguson, Missouri, when unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed, then left lying on the street, it was those forms of social media communication that contributed to keeping this killing from being covered over and forgotten.
Black Lives Matter is a hashtag on Twitter, but it is also a movement that is functioning and organizing across the United States and here in Toronto.
As a matter of local and recent Black history, the Black Lives Matter group led a demonstration on Allen Road last summer to bring attention to the police shooting deaths of Andrew Loku, 45, and Jermaine Carby, 33. Hundreds of people participated in that two-hour demonstration. It was the kind of event aided by social media in a way that putting up street poster notices alone might not have effected.
The other change occurring in the lives of Black people in the Information Age as an effect of sharing through the Internet and social media is a resurgence in Black pride. It’s been almost 50 years since singer Nina Simone raised the anthem, “Young, Gifted and Black”. The resurgence of Black pride today stands in contrast to a significant portion of the African and African descended population starved of this kind of soul food. We have to keep reminding each other of our real worth in this world. If we don’t do this for ourselves, no one will?
In the absence of commitment and coordinated actions that remind one another, we have instead the folly of colourism, for example, the obsession with elevating or debasing individuals on account of skin tone. Or, the other disturbing practice of skin bleaching, which seems to be gaining popularity. This disruptive application is, by the way, a threat to health, resulting in premature aging of the skin and in some cases skin cancer. This is what comes from an environment of incessant messages about otherness of skin colour. One report has it that 77 per cent of women in Nigeria are engaged in this bleaching response. Here’s why we need to get on with present awareness of our value and not only historical celebration.
We should by all means take the time to honour the memory of those who have gone before us, the many whose works and struggles have allowed us greater latitude in today’s world, but just as important as their legacy is our present moment. Young and old, wealthy or poor, this is an urgent reminder, which – here’s hoping – will run through all the celebrations in the coming days, whether during Black History Month or any day of any month.
A note on Martin Luther King Day…
A funny thing happened on the way through the 24 hours of this past Martin Luther King Day, a U.S. holiday that this year fell on January 18. A number of Canadian news outlets presented the public with a report of Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau breaking into song at an Ottawa event that included a tribute to the late African American civil rights leader. Is this the best Canadian news media could do on MLK Day? Here, yet again, is why this country needs real diversity in reporting.
Pat Watson is the author of the e-book, In Through A Coloured Lens. Twitter@patprose.