Rounding Out Black History Month

Today marks the end of Black History Month. I don’t know about you, but this Black History Month was unlike any other that I’ve experienced before. There were a number of peculiarities that were rather novel, at least as far as I was concerned.

Being a parent has given me the opportunity to relearn many things. When my children ask me questions like “Why is the sky blue?” it becomes incumbent upon me to research the properties of light and its effect on water droplets, reflection and refraction and then translate all that data into elementary school speak. Similarly, it became incumbent upon me to inform my children about the heroes and the villains that played (and still play) a part in our history. I have to admit that I am looking forward to the day when we teach Black history as a part of American history, and there will no longer be a need to segregate the teaching of our accomplishments from the rest of the nation’s. In the meantime, I will continue to do my due diligence and fete Martin, Harriet and even Barack if obligation compels me to. The good part of being a parent is that it has forced my attention on circumstances such as this.

It has also led me to be more observant.

There are a number of Black History “fails” that are unfolding right before our very eyes. For instance, the first and only monument to a Black man – Dr. Martin Luther King – is currently going under reconstruction to correct a misquote.  The words “I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness,”  is an excerpt from a sermon he gave in Atlanta in 1968 and are chiseled in stone. The sentence was originally preceded  with the word “if” and by removing it, the curators of the monument made Dr. King sound like a pompous simp…something he never was, and the very thing that those who reviled him try to portray him as. This mishap only serves to reinforce the idea that nothing concerning my people is worth getting right the first time.

We eat a lot of Cream of Wheat at my house. Liya, the 18 month old,  prefers hot porridge for breakfast and since this is one of her easier demands to meet I try to keep the house stocked with warm cereals…like Cream of Wheat.

 Last night I studied  the iconic image on the box for the first time ever. He looked like a more jovial and dark skinned version of Chef Boyardee, but what was his name? Uncle Ben and Aunt Jemima have their own brands, but the Cream of Wheat man was a relative unknown. I took to twitter to inquire who he was.

“His name is Rastus,” a friend tweeted back.

What?

“That’s a lie! Right? Right???” I tweeted back.

She told me she got the information from Wikipedia, so I went there myself to confirm.

Oh sweet Jesus. It was true.

“Rastus”, portrayed by Frank L. White, is a pejorative term  reserved for Black Americans. Prior to seeing this Wiki article, I had never even heard of it, but I know a pejorative when I see it. “Rastus” sounds mighty close to Ruckus, Rufus and Remus, all of whom are subservient and compliant in nature.

I desperately want to boycott Cream of Wheat, but Rastus does make a good point: it’s cheap and it’s good for you.

Damn.

Since we’re on the topic of pejorative, did you know there was a new one that has been coined for my race? “Nigger”, “darkie”, “coon” and “porch monkey” no longer serve the needs  of hard core racists, at least not in public where it is no longer permissible for them to use, so they’ve taken to calling us another name.

I’ll give you one guess. Ehhhh!!! You’re wrong!

Zombies.

“What?”

“Zombies,” repeated my  White transgendered co-worker who betrayed his race by relaying this information. “They’re calling Black people zombies, so that they can talk about them derogatory-like in public and not have to worry about it.”

“Why zombies?” I asked in utter confusion. I didn’t see anything particularly zombie-like about us. (I still don’t.)

“I dunno,” (s)he sighed. “But I’ll tell you what – all these rednecks are arming themselves in case President Obama wins again. They say Black people have an agenda and are trying to take over.”

“Oh please,” I scoffed. “We can’t even clean up our own neighborhoods! (or get the inscriptions for our most beloved heroes right, for that matter.) How are we gonna take over?”

(S)he shrugged and we continued to put shoes on the shelves, chortling at the absurdity of it all. #fail

So there you have it folks: Your Black History round up in 10 minutes or less. Not quite what you were expecting, was it? Ah well. Better luck next year.

  • David S.

    You are such a devoted parent. When I was a kid, after my parents got tired of my incessant questions, they bought a set of the Charlie Brown encyclopedia, and a set of the “Tell me Why” series of books, and from then on whenever I asked some question like “Why is the sky blue?” I was told “Look it up, and then come back and explain it to me.”

    • LMBO!!!! David, I never knew you very well in school, but I think I understand you completely now.

      *Cackle cackle cackle!!!*

  • siaj won

    lol@ zombies but I am having a migraine….God had a reason for making the sky blue and me black.Lord have mercy on them.can you tell a difference between a black man’s poo and a white man’s poo?(no pun intended just an honest question).What about the blood?Whose is more red?These are rhetoric ofcourse.

    • Oh pay them no mind. One day they will evolve sufficiently to realize this.

  • Bill

    Hello Malaka,
    I’m an artist living and working in NYC. Happened upon your blog and really enjoyed reading it. My people were from Italy and Ireland. The Italians were extremely intolerant. Clannish, narrow-minded folks who used to call Blacks “Mullions”, which is Italian for “eggplant”. That way, they could also speak badly of them in public without anyone knowing. Left there when I was old enough to drive the car out of the driveway. Just kept going. Ended up in NYC — been here ever since. Hey, I do issue-oriented paintings. Check’em out sometime. I’m at http://www.billbuckleyart.com
    Again — enjoyed your writing!!
    Bill

  • Hello Malaka,
    My daughter now attends a school where the majority of the students and staff are Hispanic/Latin and Caucasian. Every year in March the school celebrates Hispanic Cultural Month but never celebrate Black History Month. A couple years back I asked her teacher why didn’t they celebrate Black History Month and she stated, “Oh February just came so fast and we didn’t get a chance to prepare.” Keep in mind the school my daughter attends is extremely organized when it comes to the classroom, field studies down to fundraising events. I believe and teach my daughter love and embrace who we are as well as appreciating other cultures. Please give some advice as to how I can address this issue without sounding like the “angry black woman.”

    • Hi Latricia!

      First of all, I commend you for taking such an interest in our history. It makes me sad that many Africans and African-Americans don’t know anything about our history beyond Harriet Tubman and Martin Luther King, God rest their souls.

      I think there are several diplomatic approaches you can take. For one, you can conscript other parents to take up the cause so that it doesn’t look like this is “your” issue. If there is a united and diverse front, you may have more success in getting the school to take your wishes more seriously.

      You could also make it your personal mission to educate your daughter on Black history at home. Black history is AMERICAN history, and sometimes I think it’s cheapened by relegating it to one month, as though Blacks don’t make contributions every day. You could teach her about Author Ashe, Mohammed Ali, William Tanner and a whole host of Black American historical figures who have transformed the country but are often overlooked. You and other like minded parents could do this together. Our local Girl Scout troop does an excellent job of that during BHM as well.

      Good, luck and I hope I’ve helped a little!

      PS: I wish I lived closer so that you could do my hair. It needs so TLC big time! :/