Black History Month: Has it run its course?

It was created in 1926 by a Harvard professor intent on advancing knowledge of black Americans’ role in America. It was expanded 50 years later to encompass the wider role of black participation in the national life.

But in the 80th anniversary year of what has become Black History Month, a long-standing debate has reawakened, with some African Americans questioning its pertinence in the 21st century. Some see the February observance as a necessary check against the dominance of majority culture, and a vital reminder of everything African Americans have contributed to the nation.

For others, Black History Month is an anachronism that isolates the history of African Americans to a single month, reinforcing the very segregation the observance was intended to counteract. Comments made by Morgan Freeman in December have re-energized the debate, perhaps more impassioned than any since history professor Carter G. Woodson created the observance in 1926. “You’re going to relegate my history to a month?” Freeman said in an interview on CBS’ “60 Minutes.” “I don’t want a black history month. … Black history is American history.”

Black History Month isn’t the only such observance on the calendar. America’s tributes to African American achievement also include the seven-day observance of Kwanzaa in December, the national Martin Luther King holiday in January and Black Music Month in June.

80 years? I didn’t know how long Black History month has been celebrated. Now, I could go into how we have the shortest month of the year to contemplate black contributions to American history. Or, I could go on about how this is like historical segregation that only encourages people to relegate studying black history to one time of the year rather than making it a required part of our studies of American history. However, those are concerns for another day. Today I’m going to somehow tie this into Valentine’s Day because I’m too cheap to go out and buy my wife a card.

You know what? On the one hand, Black history month reminds me of C & E Christians – Christians who only show up at church on Christmas and Easter. It’s not like I have anything against any of the above occasions, and I appreciate as many people celebrating all of them as possible, it’s the mindset that bugs me. It’s almost as if they are saying that the rest of the year doesn’t matter. Don’t get me wrong, I celebrate Christmas and Easter. However, I try to have an integrative mindset, a simple philosophy of leading all of my life in light of Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection. Because, otherwise, everything else is empty rituals and we’re just going through the spiritual motions.

Which brings me to the other hand. I am all about remembrance. We have notoriously short memories and notoriously hard hearts and heads. We need rituals to draw our imaginations back to certain things, to stir our affections, to serve as reminders to what is important in life. Christmas and Easter shouldn’t be matters of fulfilling some sort of spiritual duty. No one wants duty; I believe that this includes God. He wants our hearts, our choice to love Him.

All of which brings me to Valentine’s Day. No one wants duty, least of all, my wife. I can’t just show up with roses and flower just because I think that I’m supposed to. “Hey honey, don’t worry about it. I’m your husband, it’s my duty.” You know what that gets me? The couch. And that’s the only thing I’ll be getting for a while. My wife wants my heart and my words and actions don’t mean a thing unless I’m doing it for the right reason. One of the fundamental rituals to the Christian faith is communion. This ritual of breaking of bread and sharing of wine is about remembering Christ – what his life and death meant. Without the why, without remembering what it is the wine and the bread are meant to symbolize, all I have is grape juice and nasty ass crackers.

Valentine’s Day is a ritual of memory for my wife. Those around us who have our affections. And taking the time to honor them.

Christmas and Easter are the Alpha and Omega of my faith. Black history is my story, the shared story of us, a story that doesn’t exist apart from any other story. My wife is my Valentine.

And I try to live my life in light of all of that.

Celebrate Black History Month.

Happy Valentine’s Day!!!

[Meanwhile, my wife thinks she’s funny.]