Stacey Dash, the actress turned news commentator for Fox News, recently caused an uproar by saying if it were up to her she’d do away with Black History Month, Black Entertainment Television and the NAACP Image Awards. She believes such designations only hinder blacks from advancing.
For many African-Americans, Black History Month is both a time to celebrate and a time to mourn.
This became disturbingly evident to me recently while explaining to my youngest son how chattel slavery was not as far in the past as some would like to make it seem.
And although some folks would like to forget and just move on, there’s no getting around the fact that the American dream with all of its lofty aspirations is stained by America’s historical link to the institution of slavery.
To make my point, I explained to my son that his great-grandfather, my maternal grandfather, was born in Scotland County, N.C., in 1899, the son of a slave, just 34 years after the end of the Civil War. My mother in turn was born in 1920, a mere 55 years after the close of the war. To further support my point, I explained to him that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 prohibiting racial discrimination in voting was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson just three weeks after my fourth birthday.
What was the point of my civil rights history lesson?
Despite arguments to the contrary, the residual effects of slavery – black codes (laws restricting the rights of newly freed slaves), the end of Reconstruction (federal attempts to provide some basic civil rights for African-Americans) and Jim Crow laws (state and local laws enforcing racial segregation in the South) – continue to affect the African-American community even today.
Still, I am hopeful.
Some years ago, while attending a film festival at Yale University, I was struck by filmmaker Spike Lee’s response to a question from one of the reporters.
When asked what inspires the topics for his films, he avoided answering the question directly and instead pointed out that he was only “one of millions of black people who have stories to tell.”
It was an epiphany of sorts for me.
It’s time we move past celebrating only popular civil rights leaders and other notable African-Americans and begin to reconcile our own personal histories by celebrating those we know best – our family – to become truly liberated.
With that said, I want my son to know that although blacks have made tremendous progress, we’re still a long way from Dr. King’s dream of a society where people are judged solely on the content of their character.
I also want him to find comfort in knowing that his birth is the proud extension of a lineage that we can trace to the strength of two slaves named Mack and Louiza (my great-grandparents) whose union produced a son named Charlie (my grandfather), who married Marybelle (my grandmother, whose parents also were slaves), whose union produced Sadie (my mother).
Kelvin De’Marcus Allen is a writer and public relations consultant. He attends law school part-time and he lives in Durham with his family. He can be reached at email@example.com