I used to hate February.
Specifically, Black History Month.
Oh before you get your panties all in a bunch, understand why I used to dread February 1. When I was a reporter for the Daily News in New York, I was one of only a handful of black folks toiling in the newsroom and the ONLY one writing entertainment, and when somebody/anybody bothered to remember Black History Month was coming (usually on January 31st, about three hours before deadline), it seemed it would always fall on my shoulders to write something/anything to celebrate the occasion (read: make the Daily News look like it gave a damn).
As if only black people could possibly write about it.
As if the history of black people deserved to be explored/feted/written about only once a year.
Oh, I’d write the story with attitude, but I’d do a bang-up job nonetheless—discovering all kinds of wonderful nuggets of African American history in New York. I remember once writing about the New York City Draft Riots of 1863; another time I penned a map of historic African American sites around New York, which, surprisingly, I found on the Daily News’ website here.
My favorite was a piece I began with the opening lines of Langston Hughes’ poem, “I, Too, Sing America.”
I, too, sing America.
I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.
I'll be at the table
When company comes.
Say to me,
"Eat in the kitchen,"
They'll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed--
I, too, am America.
That opening was my secret, subversive way of telling the editors at the paper and anyone reading my story that day that black history is American history—OUR history. History that deserves to be studied/pondered/appreciated outside of just the 28 days in February. Of course, I understood why Carter G. Woodson started the holiday, but I'd found that often times, particularly in my industry, Black History Month became a ready excuse to relegate black stories/black shows/black music/black books to one month, as if some special Black History Month switch gets turned on on Feb. 1 and off on Feb. 28—as if black people all get an annual “Black History Month” stipend to sop up all things Negro on those super special 28 days.
I’d checked my mailbox. There was never any Black History Month check.
These days, I’m not so wired about the month-long celebration. Probably because I’m in the position now where I can write about black folks as much as I want, without constraint, without need for permission, whenever. Because I want to. Because it’s important to me and mine. Because it’s so damn beautiful and haunting and telling. Even when it’s not February.
I kinda chuckled about this the other day when Lila, my little one, came to me waving a letter she’d gotten from her pen pal in Taiwan. Cheih-An sent a stack of pictures and writings about the Chinese New Year, which she explained in Mandarin is an extremely important celebration where she lives. “What,” Lila asked, “should I write back?”
“Why don’t you send her some letters and pictures about Black History Month?” I suggested.
“What’s Black History Month?” she asked innocently.
“It’s the time we set aside to celebrate famous African Americans and all the great things they’ve done for this country,” I said. “It’s the whole month of February that we do that.”
She looked a little perplexed—her mind was grinding. “But I want to tell her about Barack Obama and how he’s our new president. He won in January, not in February, so does that mean he’s not a part of Black History Month? Because I have pictures and I want to send them.”
“You can send them, baby. Even if it’s not February.”
Happy Black History Month, dear MyBrownBaby readers--not just today, but every day. Even when it's not February.