It’s February. The shortest month of the year. That must mean it’s Black History Month.
Yet, as Trillia Newbill has written at DG, Black history is an every day thing. And more than just Black history, it’s the history of all people willing to be enriched by the wisdom and experience of others.
In honor of this time of celebration, a number of folks have offered useful reflections. The following are links to just a couple I read yesterday and this morning:
Jemar Tisby offers five reasons we should celebrate Black History Month.
Charles M. Blow pens a NY Times OpEd, “Rosa Parks, Revisited.” In it he reports a few tidbits from a new biography on Mrs. Parks, a biography that aims to shift our image from a tired, docile domestic to a strong-minded, purposeful advocate.
Bob Kellemen begins a look at “heroes of the Black church” with an excerpt on the life of Bishop Daniel Alexander Payne from his book, Beyond the Suffering: Embracing the Legacy of African-American Soul Care.
The Nation reprinted a June 23, 1926 essay from Langston Hughes entitled “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain.” Hughes offers his thoughts on Negro self-hatred and class aspirations, and the impact they have on the ability to perceive and artistically express Negro beauty. It is an important essay for understanding some of the themes and tropes that have shaped Black artistic, intellectual and social production since the Harlem Renaissance. These words have application to more than just “race”:
So I am ashamed for the black poet who says, “I want to be a poet, not a Negro poet,” as though his own racial world were not as interesting as any other world. I am ashamed, too, for the colored artist who runs from the painting of Negro faces to the painting of sunsets after the manner of the academicians because he fears the strange un-whiteness of his own features. An artist must be free to choose what he does, certainly, but he must also never be afraid to do what he might choose.
The concluding paragraph has much to teach us about the freedom that comes from rejecting both the white gaze and the black stare:
Let the blare of Negro jazz bands and the bellowing voice of Bessie Smith singing Blues penetrate the closed ears of the colored near-intellectuals until they listen and perhaps understand. Let Paul Robeson singing Water Boy, and Rudolph Fisher writing about the streets of Harlem, and Jean Toomer holding the heart of Georgia in his hands, and Aaron Douglas drawing strange black fantasies cause the smug Negro middle class to turn from their white, respectable, ordinary books and papers to catch a glimmer of their own beauty. We younger Negro artists who create now intend to express our individual dark-skinned selves without fear or shame. If white people are pleased we are glad. If they are not, it doesn’t matter. We know we are beautiful. And ugly too. The tom-tom cries and the tom-tom laughs. If colored people are pleased we are glad. If they are not, their displeasure doesn’t matter either. We build our temples for tomorrow, strong as we know how, and we stand on top of the mountain, free within ourselves.
Have a great Black History Month!