Praise be to the Lord for February. A whole month when we, Black People, get to be unapologetically Black. We are awarded the shortest month of the year to remind the world? No, it’s not the world, its white people. We get to tell white people of the diversity within the Black Community, overlooked accomplishments, forgotten heroes, and injustices that were once committed against us — once committed? No, the wrongs that are still being committed against us to this day.
I recall celebrating Black History Month throughout my childhood. I remember making collages, writing reports, giving speeches, and uncomfortable assemblies while attending predominantly white suburban schools. Most of all I remember the same list of Black heroes shoved down everyone’s throat year after predictable year.
Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, Jesse Owens, and Booker T. Washington. We hear these names year in and year out. As though they have been deemed the acceptable Black figures to celebrate and uphold. Certain people start to get the impression that this is what Black people have contributed to society. I can not an will not stand by while people believe this is all we have added to this country. As though due credit has been given to the fact, we laid the foundations for this country brick by brick, spike by spike, and tear by bloody tear.
I say this with all due respect, every one of our heroes is not civil a rights figure. All of our heroes most certainly did not believe in pacifism. Many of our men and women of courage held philosophies that were then, and are not now as cooperative as Booker T. Washington. We may not even at times be proud of every action of some of our most significant contributors. But we will not have their legacy tarnished, forgotten, and erased from history because some people have decided that what we are, fits into a Black Box.
A hot wood box of death delivered us to this land against our will. But, we persevered, we lost many of our brothers and sisters in the process, but many more of us carried on. Now they cage us in boxes of concrete and steel, and we carry our own chains. The chains that secure the Black Box that is Black identity. Stop that now! No box can hold us. What we are could never fit into such a small space, we are too mighty. Greatness is measured not solely by what you have accomplished, but what you have overcome in the pursuit of those accomplishments. Very few who walk the earth have persisted or rebuked more than we.
Who for hundreds of years has had their identity relegated to a Black Box? Who has had their history stolen from them, not recorded, erased, or large swaths of information dismissed to margin notes in textbooks? But we carry on, bruised, bloodied, profiled, and marked by the stench of death. We attend funerals as frequently as birthday parties, and death is so common we haven’t time to mourn, we celebrate it instead. We celebrate the lives that were because we know the fragility of the life that is. Because we are Black, our life will be shorter than if we were white. But you will not put us in a box for the short time that we are here.
If you think that all Black people know how to do is fight back, you have never been more wrong. You have only been looking inside the Black Box. For outside of the confines of the box created long ago by what equates to a modern day advertising firm, lies the real strength of Black people. Education, intelligence, ingenuity, resourcefulness, perseverance, humbleness, and yes, disobedience. Born out of brutality, like the selective breeding of wheat, we are the cultivars, bred out of the best, the brightest, the strongest. We grow taller and stronger than the crops that rose up before us because they were chopped down so that we could produce. So let us grow.
Jean Baptiste Point du Sable
Zora Neal Hurston
James Weldon Johnson
Dr. Charles Drew
Ida B. Wells
Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler
Madam C.J. Walker
Mary McLeod Bethune
George Washington Carver
Mae C. Jemison
We fight. We fight with our mind, we struggle with our soul, we compete with our bodies, and we fight with our lives. If you think Black people fight, then you are not wrong, But we have fought for more than racial injustice. We have fought for science, we have fought for the arts, we have fought for the wrongs committed on other marginalized people, and yes along the way we have fought to protect and to free ourselves.
MLK has his place, but Nat Turner has his. The Black Box and what it confirms for society to believe about Black people is insufficient, incomplete, insidious, and intolerable. The fight that we have all faced whether it was in a school, a government office, a hospital, a church, or from literary critics, it has been one fight. We fight wherever we are to get out of the box. But a box of wood, concrete, steel, or even Vibrainum will never restrain us.