Another Black History Month comes to a close, well the official history month anyway. I’m one of those who lives the celebration all year-long every year. I love history in general, so I’m all about telling folks that 28 days simply can contain all the rich and wonderful Black history made by millions of great people.
I had a strange dream last night. I was giving a speech on our history and addressed the statement people make, “If I’d been around back during slavery or Jim Crow…” Some Black folks say they would have been radical rebels kicking butt and taking names. Others say, “Get real, you would have done what it took to survive just like most folks”. In this dream I said, “There is no wrong answer.” Why?
Some might describe ancestors who didn’t rebel and violently strike out as sellouts, “Uncle Toms” and “Aunt Jemimas”. You know the criticism, that they bobbed their heads while saying “Yessum, boss”. They smiled and played Stepin Fetchit. I say they found a way to preserve their personal dignity in a different way. They did what they had to do for survival, to protect their families. They found other outlets for self-expression and leadership. I say do your homework, and find out why these people were heroic, and stop denigrating your ancestors! I’ve heard Black folks say proudly that their ancestors were never slaves. They give the impression that slaves were less than free people of color, and somehow the slaves were to blame for their own captivity and degradation. I’ve also heard them say, “Our history is more than slavery! I’m sick of hearing about slavery.” Okay. Fine. What disturbs me is this almost sounds like contempt for those ancestors.
I’m proud of my slave ancestors. They survived hell, and made it possible for me to be here. What a miracle that they were artists, inventors, mathematicians, learned in secret, found a way to worship when the slave masters tried to stop them and so much more. What extraordinary strength they had!
I also celebrate the firebrand rebels, the leaders of slave revolts. The runaway slaves who used their wits to escape and build new lives. I celebrate those beaten for speaking out, killed for not bending down. I celebrate those who wrote words that started fires literally, fires that meant burning crosses and entire towns destroyed. I celebrate those who kept speaking, writing and building even when many said they should shut up, sit down and not cause trouble.
There is no wrong answer, because the truth is we needed both kinds of ancestors to make it through. Which one of those two approaches would I have chosen? I have no clue. But whatever choice I made, I’m convinced it wouldn’t have been the wrong one.