The old adage says that March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. Well, that remains to be seen. What I do know is that February is just about played out, which means that Black History Month is fixing to close up shop for 2013.
Black History Month began as a Negro History Week way, way back in the 1920’s. Then, during our country’s bicentennial year, 1976, President Gerald Ford said, “Aw, hell. As long as we’re celebrating all this making of America shit, let’s make Negro History Week a whole month and quit calling it Negro…sounds too much like nigger.”* And so it was in motion that each February we would set forth to acknowledge the contributions and accomplishments of the African Diaspora.
During the 1970’s the most obvious uptick in black awareness took place in popular culture, and nowhere was it more accessible to a li’l Hot Damn than on the tube. TV shows like Sanford and Son, The Jeffersons and Good Times were mainstream fare. On Sunday afternoons the only thing on TV to watch was Soul Train (you MUST click this link!), dotted with commercials for Afro Sheen. Based on the later, I figured that all black teenagers were happy-go-lucky Negros that dressed funny and who, more than anything, liked nothing better than to smile, sing and dance for the man. This notion continued into the 1980’s with must-see t.v. Diff’rent Strokes and Webster, shows where stuffy white people’s lives were greatly enriched by adopting plucky, yet stunted, black kids. Although there was that one time they showed Roots, but that was during the school week.
And in cinema there was much ado about “all black ensemble” movies. That’s cool and all. Who can’t dig on Shaft? And where would Quentin Tarantino be without the muse of Foxy Brown or Cleopatra Jones??? But there was a weird movement to release “black” versions of “white” movies. You may remember Michael Jackson’s acting in The Wiz, co-starring Diana Ross, or the reimagining of Cinderella into the urban Cindy. In this version, Cindy is too ghetto to have a glass slipper and instead loses her dirty sneaker. I’d be pissed if I was a black chick…just sayin’. There was also Blacula, Blackenstein, The Black God Father and Black Shampoo to only name a few. Of course this trend continues today, with the recent black version of Steel Magnolias with Queen Latifah and the just announced new Annie with little Quvenzhané Wallis revising the lead role of the loveable ginger-haired, freckle-faced Annie. I think about how African-Americans would feel if we turned the tables on their art, but then I remember that “we” have Vanilla Ice.
I was also acutely aware of the Negro College Fund along with Ebony and Jet magazines, which I thought of as being like the Thunderbolt Newsletter for black folk. But it seems like it’s really happened more in recent times that Black History Month is actually about more than Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech, working together or that George Washington Carver invented peanut butter…btw, something that I can’t believe the hysterical hippie-white women that run the Peanut Allergy Police Squad haven’t jumped on and vilified.
I live in Atlanta, which I think is kinda like ground zero for black history. We are home to scads of historically black colleges, many civil-rights leaders, and several music legends (and rappers…ugh!) while boasting big-city credibility. During this past month our city made a point to participate in a day of service to honor Martin Luther King, Jr. plus Atlantans have been enjoying seeking out gallery showcases of specifically African-American artists, taking walking and eating tours of the Sweet Auburn district, sitting in on museum lectures, strolling educational exhibits, visiting jazz festivals, listening at literary events at the Margaret Mitchell house, praising in gospel choir concerts and clapping at dance theaters. Oh, and then there was the Bronner Brothers International Fantasy Hair Show…
I think that this picture really tells you everything you need to know about how far we have come with our civil relations. There’s no way this could have happened in 1953. I mean, three of those cheerleaders are brunettes!
* This may not have been an exact quote
And, what in the hell is “Black Love”? Anyone? Do black people have a special kind of secret love that whitey can’t get in on?