De/Reconstructing Black History Month (February)

Fist

Black History Month has been domesticated. For much of society, especially in the U.S., this month simply represents a time of the year to promote “peace,” “unity,” and “reconciliation.” Further still, Black History Month is now an extra playing card for power brokers of society—and the card reads, “Stop-your-complaining-we-have-given-you-an-entire-month.” I would say that this mentality of patronization is most prevalent among those in charge who insist that racial progress is on the up and up.

Deconstructed

The problem (leastways in my own view) are the lines that are drawn (intentionally and unintentionally) between racial groups—specifically within Christian circles. Black folk experience righteous fury over both previous and current injustices while white folk have a hard time understanding why it is that black people can’t just “forgive and forget.” Quietism is the only remedy… The results equal: 1) Charitable dialogue dissolves due to mistrust and judgmental posturing (by both sides). 2) Christians (black, brown, white, etc.) miss an opportunity to question various methods of subtle tokenism that continue to plague our society under the guise of “racial reconciliation.” 3) And finally, or should I say ironically, Christians end up forfeiting a month that could be consecrated to divine outrage over current injustices by tip toeing around said injustices so as to not upset the status quo.

I write from a Christian perspective. With that being said, I want to make a controversial suggestion. Churches should no longer celebrate Black History Month. In my view this month has simply been promulgated as a means to numb colored folk to injustices that they continue to face. When institutions, specifically Christian institutions, celebrate the popular renditions of Black History Month the results are more negative than they are positive.

Reconstructed

So what then is the solution? I will not be so arrogant to suggest that I know with certainty what will right the ship when it comes to this matter—nonetheless I will offer some insights. I should also emphasize here that I am by no means suggesting that the celebration of people’s ethnic heritage must simply cease in order to expose the methods of the powerful. Instead, I want to reimagine what the month of February should mean to Christ’s church.

If churches truly wish to pay homage to the brave women and men who fought for the freedom of dark bodies throughout the U.S.’s abysmal history of racial sin, I think that the best way to do this would be to reclaim the month of February as a month where the entire, liberation infested, civil rights movement is remembered (in word) and reenacted (in deed) by church communities in our modern milieu. I would suggest that the 28 days in February be viewed as a sacrament of sorts. The time of Lent provides an appropriate parallel for what I envision in regards to the month of February for the church. Much like Lent, the 28 days in February would consist of prayer, reflection and action. And, like the Lenten season, Christians should be challenged to continue incorporating the practices they embodied over the 28 days into the rhythms of their lives.

Conclusion

Perhaps I can push a bit further. If Christians were to view the month of February as a month to celebrate various civil rights movements throughout U.S. history, the consequence would be that the month of February (as far as the church was concerned) belongs not only to  people like Mahalia Jackson but also to Cesar Chavez. This month of civil unrest would not only belong to Harper Lee but also to Daisuke Kitagawa. To Richard Twiss and to Lisa Sharon Harper. This suggestion is complicated due to possible misunderstandings…

First, it should be duly noted that I am not advocating for less of an emphasis on heroic stories from various African American social movements. On the contrary—without black people’s struggle for freedom here in the U.S., human rights would have been virtually unattainable for any person whose skin was not white! Second, one could glean from this conversation that I am promoting a subtle form of cultural homogenization. Again, this could not be further from the truth! The melting pot analogy is often used in an effort to demonstrate cultural diversity when in reality it simply promotes cultural ambiguity. If churches were to take up my difficult suggestion, they would inevitably need to take great pains to celebrate the particularities of each culture without promoting cultural amnesia for the sake of “unity.”

I have attempted to be both sensitive and passionate in arguing my case. Nonetheless, I welcome opposing views and critiques. All that to say, we, as the people of God, have to think more carefully about the aforementioned subjects. Furthermore, we need to rediscover our divine outrage over racial discrimination in our modern society. As far as I am concerned, a way to ignite this fire may be to baptize the month of February in the waters of righteous indignation.

Josiah R. Daniels

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