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Black Codes From Above Ground

By Kathy Y. Wilson · February 5th, 2014 · Kathy Y. Wilson

Every single February of my column-writing life — coming up on 13 years, collectively, between a daily and a weekly newspaper — I’ve whispered to myself secret black promises that this February, this would be the one I wouldn’t write an obligatory lamentation about Black History Month; yet, here I am again still trying to figure out the meaning of blackness as a color, a force, a people, a civilization seemingly forever relegated to the shortest month of the year back when we really needed this kind of ghettoized and compartmentalized recognition.

The Great Quandary about Black History Month is that whites, with their general malaise toward and unknowingness of basic black culture beyond sports and Rap music, and blacks, with our bottomless well of cultural co-dependence and middle-child anxieties about being “recognized,” both seem to need Black History Month in ways that do not serve well the original intentions of Negro History Week when Carter G. Woodson invented it in 1926, designating the second week in February because the week corralled the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.

Black History Month for those of us who’d like to see it just quietly fall off is like an antiquated social program that either needs drastic overhauling or burying. 

But to do the latter America must do better at interpolating — not stealing, pinching or even ignoring — black culture in toto.

I am neither calling for the complete segregation of cultures one from the other nor the whitewashing of black culture; I am requesting a reasonable blend, which would take us to an unimaginable time and space when we wouldn’t need grave-voiced announcers reading us 30-second bios of black inventors, millionaires and doctors.

If America’s 21st century infrastructure wasn’t still so racist and classist, then more everyday recognition — and money — would be more fairly doled out and black culture wouldn’t be demoted to the status of trivia question.

And that is what Black History Month has done to us: Did you know...

A fairer handling of at least popular culture could mean black talents like Issa Rae would also have a much-hyped and -heralded show on HBO alongside Lena Dunham’s Girls rather than webisodes of Rae’s brilliant Awkward Black Girl being on YouTube, left to scrounge for production funds from Pharell Williams.

But for some reason America’s never been able to stomach seeing blacks succeed at the mundane; it’s a place reserved exclusively for whites (Seinfeld, et.

al.) and it shows a fantastic lack of imagination on America’s behalf.

White folks don’t live alone within this lack of imagination.

Blacks, too, suffer from it.

Bounce TV, the first black-owned network co-founded by Andrew Young and Martin Luther King III, will be showing “historic movies and documentaries” to commemorate Black History Month between regular programming like Off the Chain, a roundup of no-name, unfunny black comedians.

Bounce TV airs reruns of Soul Train, Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids and all manner of “black” movies, and by “black” I mean any movie where a black person walks across screen. With its “TV Our Way” slogan, wouldn’t it be weird (or refreshing, depending) if Bounce didn’t delineate Black History Month programming? Isn’t it historical enough that two name-brand blacks pooled their resources in that Kwanzaa way and got a network up and running?

When will merely existing black and creating blackness be enough? What is it that we need from race, that we expect to receive from it? What can become of annually turning black culture into a 28-day game of (black) Jeopardy?

Let’s be honest for once: We are all racially schizophrenic since the six-year-old election of the nation’s first bi-racial/black identifying president.

President Obama’s election signaled a reported “end to blackness” and my favorite racial insult, a “post-racial America,” but what it really opened the floodgates for was the bold reappearance of white supremacy in all its non-robe-wearing glory.

White racists have shown themselves with the same vim and vigor and pride exhibited by the progressive lefties who believed in Hope and Change and who knocked on doors to get Obama elected and who wept when he was.

And while the election of President Obama definitely heralded a cataclysmic sea change in what America is capable of, I, for one, have been more anxious and beset by my Spidey Senses of hyper-awareness of race and racial politics since 2008. 

I think I join legions of other blacks when I say we are squinting at the president now through half optimistic eyes, hoping he doesn’t screw up beyond the realms of reason and if he does, we’re hoping he can take his lashings, all in the name of “Well, we asked for it so he shouldn’t get any special treatment because he’s black.”

However, amongst ourselves at our Secret Black Meetings held Sunday afternoons sometime after church but before we hit the buffet, we’re saying to one another: Cut the brotha some slack.

The pressure in America to be both black and supremely and unquestionably excellent is mind numbing. 

This is not a complaint. 

This is black truth.

The attempt can drive a striving black woman to distraction; it’s why so many blacks are secretly self-loathing and preternaturally self-conscious to the point of falling head first into identity crises.

Just try it; you will feel what I mean.

Or watch it and notice the nuances of black behavior.

So, in all this I understand Black History Month.

It is a nostalgic and wistful look back at all the Negroes who, to paraphrase the great American poet, Nikky Finney, “never had it made.”

As I approach the end of this, begun at the end of January, I am now flummoxed by my feelings about Black History Month. 

If we put the kibosh on it, what then? There’s a lot I don’t know about my own people, but there’s a lot I don’t know about everything and everybody.

But I find them out on my own.

CONTACT KATHY Y. WILSON: letters@citybeat.com



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