As we step into Black History Month, it is always helpful to reflect on what the month means for the Black community and its allies.
Last year I wrote a piece about the adultification in the Black community in regards to the film “Cuties.” As I read through the suggested edits, I noticed that the copy editor recommended that I lowercase the b in Black.
For a moment I stared at my laptop, trying to find the words to explain why the b in Black was capitalized. It wasn’t the first time that I found myself struggling to find the words to explain a part of my culture to someone outside of it.
When raising children in the “hood,” parents have two options. The first is to send their child to the school near their home– a school with a large opportunity and achievement gap compared to suburban schools. Then there is option two: sending their child to a school out of their residency requirement– a school with better test scores and more academic programs. The issue with option two is that Black students are underrepresented at suburban and private schools. So while they are in place for better education, they often have to explain their culture to students and teachers who don’t have a clue.
My parents tried to give option one a chance but had to settle for option two. I attended the inner city’s Audobon Middle School, the feeder school for Crenshaw High School. I then transferred to Haskell Middle School in Cerritos. I then attended Westchester High School for a year, another inner-city school, before finishing my high school career at St. Anthony High School– a private institution.
Jump-roping the color lines during those years put me in the position of constantly having to advocate for my culture. In middle school that battle was explaining to my counselor why my teachers making comments about my “poofy” hair made me uncomfortable. In high school it escalated to me defending being able to wear my braids, being accused of plagiarism because my teacher figured I “didn’t know what the words I used meant” and advocating for the school to celebrate Black History Month.
As I stared at my laptop, trying to find the words for my editor, I chuckled. This is the experience of being Black. There are so many small details of Black culture that Black people are forced to explain or let go because it isn’t highlighted in school or mass media.
That’s why Black History Month is important. Black culture is built on a vast history that features horror, triumph, rhythm and blues. That same culture has influenced nearly every aspect of American society from sports to fashion to music. Because of this, it’s easy to say that Black history is American history.
That fact wouldn’t be known without Black History Month. February is the month where little boys and girls of all races learn about the accomplishments of Black inventors, creators and Civil Rights leaders.
It was during Black History Month that I learned my great-grandmother wasn’t allowed into certain diners during her younger years. That timeline hadn’t registered for me until my teacher pointed it out. I went home and talked to my great-grandmother about the horrors she went through as a teenager and young adult. A conversation that wouldn’t have happened without the push from my second-grade teacher.
February was the month I was able to teach my wealthy classmates at St. Anthony High School why my braids aren’t just a hairstyle. It forced my classmates to take a look at our school’s policies that were written by White men in the 1970s and realize that they weren’t inclusive.
It was on Feb. 1 when the hashtag “Black Facts” trended on Twitter, with users posting different Black accomplishments and tidbits.
The month of February is where I gained the confidence to explain to my editor the b in Black is capitalized because I am not a Crayola crayon and just like a Latina woman or Chinese man, I deserve to have my culture be respected.
Black History Month encourages dialogue about a culture that is often left out of the conversation. It is during February when trailblazers like my great-grandmother, who refused to go to a Dennys because of the trauma she experienced, are celebrated. It is during this month that the Black veterans who served this country and returned to American soil only to be spat at and called derogatory names are honored. It is in February when inventors like Christina Jenkins, the woman who invented the sew-in weave technique, are acknowledged.
It is in this shortened month when the lives of little Black boys and girls like Emitt Till are honored. It is in this shortened month, little Black boys and girls get to see themselves in positive aspects that do not involve being honored after being wrongfully murdered.
This is the month where dialogue is created among other communities about Black culture. It is a celebration of excellence that is typically only highlighted in mass media when speaking of trauma. Black History Month is like a party that builds confidence in the next generation of Black creators, leaders and inventors.
Black History Month normalizes the existence of Black excellence.