We’re half way through the second week of Black History Month. Here at RaceWire, we are a little ambivalent about national celebrations like Black History Month, and many of those other lofty occasions like Cesar Chavez Day and Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. Blasphemy, I know! They’re usually initiated with the best of intentions to honor history and recognize the political milestones of our communities. And it’s important and appropriate to recognize the contributions of the people who came before us, the many struggles and many sacrifices of our forebears. But these sorts of occasions always end up feeling more hollow than hallowed.
Sure, we’re hearing a lot these days about Henrietta Lacks, GOP chairman Michael Steele issued a surprisingly non-tone-deaf video honoring the month, and the White House even managed to recognize Black American history in a month that wasn’t explicitly designated for such events. (Thank goodness Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wasn’t born in February!)
But often the whole thing becomes a watered down, commercialized fluff holiday, a reason for an extra 15 percent off sale at the local department store, or the one time of the year when the town holds a Black poets’ night.
So for you, today, we’ve collected the best of the most unhelpful ideas to recognize Black History Month. You know what we’re talking about, the sorts of events that are so galling that they undermine the actual legacy of Black history and the achievements of organized struggle to fight inequality, and mock the enduring reality of racism today. Unfortunately, they’re exactly what we get when February rolls around every year. So without further ado, here’s your list:
1) Celebrate Black History Month by relaxing your hair.
This gem comes to us from our friends at Sociological Images, and can be presented without comment. Okay, okay it cannot—I have something to say. The assumption here is that Black History Month provides the opportunity to market to Black consumers. But it’s not Black Folks Spend More Money Month, and neither should it be Let’s Pay Attention To Our Black Customers Month. So why insult everyone by tying the deals to Black History Month?
2) Celebrate Black History Month with NBC by eating fried chicken, collard greens and rice and beans at the staff cafeteria.
This debacle came and went in a jiffy last week, but folks aren’t going to let NBC hear the end of it anytime soon. Leslie Calhoun, the chef in NBC’s Manhattan headquarters, had been trying to shake things up at the apparently staid staff cafeteria for several years, and finally got the higher-ups to sign off on her idea to bring some classic soul food to the menu. Calhoun’s Black. It was her idea. She wanted some change, and she wanted to serve good food and nothing more.
It sounds harmless, and it actually is. I don’t have a problem so much with Calhoun as I do with companies who actually pull these sorts of shenanigans with earnest intentions of using traditionally Black American cuisine to celebrate Black History Month. And they pat themselves on the back at the end of day for having contributed to recognizing the whole of Black history. It’s plain ‘ol reductive to honor Black folks’ history with fried chicken. Haven’t Black folks given this country more than fried chicken?
I know NBC apologized. But other companies better take note. And don’t think that adopting a baby from Haiti is the way to atone for your sins if you’re guilty of having organized an offensive Black History Month event at your company.
I will let the picture speak for itself, and no, I’m not going to link to the website that is offering this deal through February 26, 2010. Among the other movies that are on sale? Blade 2, Space Jam, Homie Spumoni, and 16 Blocks, a Bruch Willis movie that I think is on sale because it also stars Mos Def. They’re also selling a bunch of other legit Black films, but I especially love this other collection of, um, classics.
And they’re why Black History Month ceases to mean much of anything to most people even though the need to understand and remember Black history, and the broader collective history of people of color, is as urgent as ever. Especially in light of news that states are seriously considering excising whole eras of time from school curriculum, Black History Month is not something to scoff at. But it sure is about more than Wesley Snipes, collard greens and hair relaxers.