Monday, February 13, 2012

Why do we celebrate Black History Month? To re-humanize a people

I believe that Black History Month is for everyone. However, Black History Month is important for Black people, and it’s important to understand why.

Problem, Solution

Colonialists had a problem. They were Christian, yet their method of slavery was inhumane. The solution was to decide that Africans were not human and thus were not eligible to be recipients of love as the Bible required; rather, they could be treated as cattle, as beasts of burden, and in an inhumane manner. To reinforce this, it is documented that they embarked on a systematic program of dehumanization.

Eliminated culture

To dehumanize, African slaves had to be separated from the vestiges and hallmarks of humanity – culture. Tactics included separating Africans from their tribesmen so that, on the plantation, they could not communicate, share their stories, their histories, or organize themselves; making it illegal for slaves to learn to read, or go to school; breaking apart the family unit, separating husbands from wives, parents from children, shredding apart trust by making it worthless to invest in relationships on plantation if slaves were only going to be sold, lynched or otherwise prevented from exercising any free will or self-determinism.

Eliminated history

Not only were Africans prevented from cultural expression, they were also prevented from custodianship of their histories of cultural expression. The  repository of culture, the place where culture is stored and maintained in order to be available for, and of value to, successive generations, is in history and the work of its curators. If there are no curators, and therefore no history, there is no culture, there is no humanity.

In thinking about these and many other tactics, it’s not hard to see the residual damage still entrenched within Black communities. After all, European/American slave trade lasted several centuries – generations of diaspora Africans knew no other way of life but as sub-human property of slave owners.

Restoring history, rebuilding culture

Black History Month, then, is one of many initiatives burdened with the challenge of recreating an historical context for people of the African Diaspora. There is so much data that have been lost or destroyed in the Middle Passage from Africa to the West, utterly unrecoverable, lost forever, especially genealogies connecting the African Diaspora to their rightful pasts. 

Thus does Black History Month not only seek to restore and rebuild what it can from the records that remain; it also serves to create new stories, new history of what has happened since the Great Passage, a New World context in which to reset the African Diaspora back into the fellowship of humanity and equality – it’s all about re-humanizing people.

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