This post is a response to a friend’s post.
Re: Yup, never hold back criticism to spare guilt. I think this is a constructive question. I thank you fore asking this, and will likely end up reposting this long ass response on my blog. Do I have permission to credit you with asking this in a screen shot?
tl;dr: I celebrate black history now like it’s my lent, because being me is my religion and I am endlessly, impossibly grateful to ones that came before me. I’m here for a good (not a long) time
Now . I started off as one of those well intentioned, but misinformed and annoying black liberal men who lived with the illusion, that black history month was somehow wrong, because it excluded black history from the mainstream. “Black history was just history” I would tell myself. This was before I learned the vital importance of a) having your own shit AKA your own table to sit at and b) never wanting to apologize.
I lived my life prior to Obama’s second term with the idea that we had “beaten” racism. This is despite the fact that I was doubly conscious, and somewhat paranoid in white spaces/institutions.Though I had been raised in predominantly black environments, I was one of those annoying terrible mansplaining pop-liberal black men who spoke out loud that we had overcome the gigantic specter of Racism.
So “why does everything have to be about race?” I would ask. “I’m just a person who happens to be black.”
And I’m a man. It should have been easy to select my race first because of how corrosive and Eurocentric mainstream masculinity is… It should have been easy for me to know “I am in the world, and I am black” but there was this made faceless shame I wanted to outrun. It was not put there by me of my family. It was something I absorbed as a black boy when I was not seeing my face reflected back at me in a positive light. You get me? I was straight up brainwashed, and because I am a man, I could afford to be. I could afford to avoid race, because the white folks I was ingratiated with “didn’t care.” I was bougie and weak AF until I really thought about what it means for me to be Black before anything else. Mind you, I don’t think anyone HAS to make that choice, but it is important for a person to know the first foot you walk on in this world.
And mind you, my family this the blackest black there is. My parents are first generation true New Yorkers, but my blood is from the south, when my matriarchs were “in a family way” and had to run up North with they baby daddy. And the stories of slavery and segregation were abound in my youth, and we celebrated Kwanzaa, and my mom made us pretend to be slaves once so we could feel what it was like (she was a terrible massa)….You get the idea? I had one-million reminders that I grew up successfully ignorant was because I thought “the world wasn’t that way any more.” I ignored my struggle and the struggle before me and I did not progress or evolve.
Don’t get it twisted, I knew racism was “a thing” but it was always a weird thing. So when the reminders came, it was funny and uncanny to me, rather than chilling and familiar. My mom would kiss me before I left the house like it was the last time she’d see me and I’d laugh. White folks would tell me “I spoke well for a black guy.” I’d laugh. Black men would talk about “going after the girl with the light skin.” I’d laugh. Fuck, one time the security guards at my college accused me of stealing thousands of dollars of inventory from the performing arts department, AKA the most insane and candy ass heist in the world.
The struggle for me I think was the intersection between my desire to be accepted as a young person, my insecurities about not feeling welcome within my own community because I didn’t fit ‘the mold’, and my fear that I would be somehow letting down my race. It was much easier to be uninvolved. Invisible.
So I’ve starred some of the lessons.
So the change in mind didn’t happen over night, but when I went to an all black public school, it was a chance to define myself among my own peers who were dealing with a lot of the same sort of identity challenges. *There I learned that the kind of black man that I am is valid. Then college racism, my own direct experiences as a young man, and all the systemic/societal racism was a large factor in getting me to realize that the pain of racial tensions never dissipated. *Racism is alive and well. Those experiences alone got me seeing myself as Black first.
Also I rejected Christianity, which I also think held me back.
Once I saw myself as Black, before any other element of my identity, things came a little easier. Black is good. Black is great. Black is why I have my money. Black is my yesterday, today, and tomorrow. And black is me. It’s a shared language where I can see you on the street without knowing you, and nod in your direction because we can just DO that. Black is pain and joy in lock-step. I swear to god. Being black is it’s own special power, and it means that I can evolve, flourish, and survive.
So remembering all of those that came before me who had to survive through every evil thing that tried to stop them is an action that moves me nearly to tears. Here we are still fighting. Still remembering. But still moving forward.