Before I begin, let me state that, as a black man, I’m a fan of Black History Month. Big fan. So much so that I have started a grassroots movement of receiving Black History Month gifts. (Haven’t gotten me anything yet? Not to worry. There’s still time. ) My issue is not with the month itself, but how Black History is taught to children. What are my concerns? And ruin the surprise? Read up, Inquiring Minds…
Saturday, February 18th, 2012
The day began like any other. I awoke on the couch, eyes bleary, television blaring, Bible in one hand, a bottle of Mountain Dew in the other, body covered in fake rose petals left over from my Valentine’s Day re-enactment of “American Beauty”. Not sure what is more depressing, my loneliness, the fact I hadn’t cleaned my bed in four days, or the fact that I played the part Meena Suvari. Let’s be clear, I makes one helluva Meena Suvari. History is fraught with men playing women’s roles: Shakespeare, Madame Butterfly, Margaret Thatcher. (Oh, she started out as a woman, but during the final few years of her reign, that was a man-postor. Look it up…I’ll wait.)
My day, per usual, was packed with planned activities. I was going to wake up, eat a hearty breakfast of blueberry Belgian waffles, watch “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance”, and volunteer at the Virginia Women’s Expo. The waffles turned into two bananas and three Golden Oreos, and I passed on “Ghost Rider”. Let’s be honest, the last “Gotta see it before it airs on FX” Nicholas Cage movie was “The Rock”, and that was more about Connery. I did, however, make it to the Virginia Women’s Expo. (I’m a giver by nature, and I make it a point not to disappoint the ladies…)
As I walked through the maze that is the Greater Richmond Convention Center in search of the Expo, I began to wonder what I had gotten myself into. Somehow, though my intentions were pure (pure-ish), I always found a way to get into trouble at these types of events. I walked into the Expo greeted by the sight of women as far as the eye could see, and since I was wearing my glasses with the binocular lenses (patent-pending), that was pretty darn far. Not one to be distracted from my appointed duty, I walked down the first aisle in search of the Komen booth. Fortunately, the booth was halfway down the aisle. I managed to make it without getting into any trouble. Dressed in my customary pink polo-style shirt, jeans, and Nike cross-trainers (still looking for a sponsor, makers of the Swoosh…have a lot of your products), I had the look that screamed, “Hey, ladies, come talk to me about your breasts…health…concerns”. After getting my bearings and establishing my post, I took the opportunity to scan my surroundings. The Komen / Pink Tie Gala booth was diagonally across from a booth selling lingerie and two booths down from a booth for the Women’s Self-Defense Network. This formed a triangle of sorts of three of my favorite things: lingerie, women who kick ass, and Galas (i.e. breasts…health…concerns). Three things brought together effortlessly in Zoe Saldana’s “Colombiana”. How did the 3 ½ hours play out? Long story short, don’t try to get the number of a woman surrounded by ex-Marines.
At this time, there are probably those of you who are saying, “Damion, this is a nice story and all, but how does this relate to Black History Month straining race relations?” To you, I say, hold your proverbial horses (or real horses if you’re lucky enough to own a ranch, or unlucky enough to be Amish), it’s coming.
Two and a half hours into my giving, we decided to call it a day. Foot traffic had ground to a slow trickle, and the streets were about to run red with circus traffic. Well, probably not red, but I don’t know the primary color palate of circus-goers. Since things wound down early, I decided to head down to NC to hang out with my friend Alexis. Alexis and I had a special friendship. The kind where she would kick me in the chest to indicate that she wanted her feet rubbed, and I would explain to her that I celebrated Black History Month by having white women (a group of which she was a member) feed me. Did she get her feet rubbed? Yes. Did I get fed? If by “fed”, you mean having a piece of toast smashed into my face, then the answer is “Yes”. Who better to have a deep conversation about the state of race-relations in our nation’s schools?
“You look nice,” I said awaiting the return compliment.
“Thank you,” she said.
“And???” I said to myself hoping the hours I’d spent carefully crafting my look hadn’t been for naught.
“I like your sweater,” she said.
“Really? This old thing? It was clean…You know, a friend at work gave me a Black History Month gift…Just sayin’.”
“I said ‘A friend at work got me a Black History Month gift’.”
“I know what you said; I was asking what she got you.”
“A DVD of ‘The Color Purple’.”
“Is that a tear-jerker?”
“I think so. I’ve never actually seen it.” Yes, Black People, I have not seen “The Color Purple”. Not much of an Oprah fan, and I haven’t been big on Danny Glover since “Iron Eagle 2”. What’s that? That was Louis Gossett, Jr? Well, I still blame Danny Glover for “starring” in “Predator 2”. You could’ve said “No”, Danny…You could’ve said no…
“A lot of black movies are tear-jerkers,” Alexis stated as she went on to explain her childhood trauma. “We had to watch ‘Amistad’ at school when I was a kid.”
“You see there,” I started as I entered intellectual-rant mode, “I’ve always thought that the worst thing you can do for race-relations is to make school children watch movies like ‘Roots’ or ‘Amistad’ together. The black kids end up mad, the white kids feel guilty, and black kids want to beat up the white kids. Kids don’t know what to do with all of those emotions. Just a bunch of anger and guilt.”
“Did it make you mad?”
“Heck yeah. (I don’t use foul language around the ladies.) First, I was sad, because I saw how black people were being treated. Then, I was mad. How about you?”
“As a white girl, I always felt bad, and it wasn’t my fault. I didn’t cause it. I understand it was a part of our nation’s history, and you don’t want to ignore it, but there’s gotta be a better way.”
“Exactly! We went to a plantation to look at slave quarters.”
“As a field trip??? That’s just messed up.”
“Like you said, it’s a part of our nation’s history. I understand what they are trying to do, but…kids? You walk around looking at slave quarters thinking, ‘Human beings were made to live like this? This is f’d up! Dang that!’ It’s why I don’t like boats…or yard work. Then, you get back on the bus, and the white kids are like, ‘We’re still good, right? Gonna get on the blacktop tomorrow? Play a little Duck-Duck-Goose? Spirited game of Red-rover? Perhaps, a little Hide and go Seek? Red light, Green light? Hmmm? We all love Red light, Green light.' Just a lot of unnecessary stress.”
“Same with when they taught us about the Holocaust. I just felt so sad.”
“Yeah, and when we studied Native Americans, there was the Trail of Tears, blankets covered in smallpox, buying the Isle of Manhattan for glass beads. By the end of the year, you pretty much succeeded in making every minority group mad at white people. That’s why, to this day, I go after their women.”
“’That’s why I go after their women’…you’re so stupid,” she said while leaning back and ‘tapping’ me on the chest with her foot.
“Are you serious? Did we NOT just go through this whole race-relations thing? You know, it’s still my month.”
“I know. I know. It’s your month. Would you like some more toast?”
“Funny. You’re lucky we’re friends. During Women’s History Month, I gets MY feets rubbed.”
“Mmmhmmm…Less talk-y more rub-y.”
I drove back to Richmond that night so as to beat the incoming snow “storm”. I pulled “Shakira” into the garage, headed upstairs, and fell out on the bed smelling of feet. “What the--rose petals??? I really need to clean this bed…tomorrow…after the Duke game.”