Thursday 17 June 2021
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Memory politics of #BlackHistoryMonth

The 2018 theme for Black History Month is “African Americans in Times of War” in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the end of WW1 and aims to pay tribute to the plight and demise of black Americans during the American revolution and contemporary revolution of the present day aimed to promote black consciousness.
Black History month was the brainchild of a Harvard-trained historian CARTER g, Woodson and prominent minister Jesse E. Moorland who founded the Association for Negro life and History (ASNLH). The ASNLH was dedicated to researching and promoting black excellence by black Americans and people of African descent. Today it is known as the Association for the study of African American Life and History (ASALH) and in 1962, it commemorated a Negro History week during the second week of February and this became an annual feat.  It was only in 1976 that President Gerald R. Ford expanded the week into a month. To become what is today known as Black History Month.

According to President Ford, “The country needs to seize the opportunity to honour the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavour throughout our history”.
This year the month coincides with the release of the much anticipated ‘Black Panther’ movie which is the first all-black cast production in Hollywood. Perhaps it is coincidental, but this movie complements the theme of black history month because it also contains a war-like theme where Africans of Ancient ‘Wakanda’ are fighting for their nation and its liberty against foreign insurgents. Clearly aimed to send the message across that Africans and people of African descent are a powerful force to reckon with and have a lot to offer to the world despite having experienced a not so victorious past consequent of white supremacy. This message is important because we live in a white-managed world.

Hence it is important to stress that #BlackHistoryMonth is such a necessary time because the painful truth, of course, is that every month is white history month in the United States of America. It was Africans who were sold into slavery and their descendants who were forced to work hard and tortured greatly to ensure that the United States of America becomes the wealthy nation that it is today. Parallel to celebrating excellence, remains the mammoth task of enlightening critics of black consciousness, especially non-black critics of the truth that white supremacy in itself is a form of human depravity because not only does it take from the non-whites as it did and continues to take from black people, but it robs white people of their sense of humanity considering that it is founded on hate and ignorance.
Furthermore, commemorating black history month is equally relevant for Africans the world over for the sake of preserving memory culture on the demise of African descendants who through slavery and continuing systematic racism continue to be discriminated against in the United States of America.

African history in itself is a broad topic because we are dealing with at least 54 individual nations, with their individual unique histories and issues. However, what most African nations have in common is a negative encounter with Western imperialism and racism. These commonalities have resulted in a unified African memory culture that any African regardless of country of origin cannot refute.
This is because of the undeniable influence that American television and media especially has in the average African home. A case in point is the “American accent” often viewed as a sense of sophistication. Hence, there appears to be this tug for expressing memory culture, whereas the African in Africa wants to identify with the African-American in the US and the African-American in the US is pulled towards African culture and this often reflects in their choice of clothing whilst some relocate to African countries indefinitely.

This can best be explained in the words of Jan-Werner Müller (2002) who motivates that, “Identity- understood as a relational concept and as sameness over time- is established by what is remembered, and itself then leads in turn to certain pasts being remembered and others being forgotten”. What Africans and individuals of African descents should never forget is their common, albeit contrasting history. Hence black history month despite being an annual remembrance of black excellence in the US, it is equally important for creating a positive memory culture for black people globally.
Reinhold Kössler (2015) further explains that “in the forging and continuation of public memory, groups and individuals with access to resources such as education, specialist knowledge, the media, publishing houses or maybe the resources to erect a monument or run a private museum certainly enjoy a tremendous head start over those who are totally deprived of, or are less well endowed with, such assets”. Hence this is why the movie ‘Black Panther” is vital for creating positive black memory culture just as black history month.

Critics both black and non-black have pointed out the unfairness of devoting an entire month to one racial group, with others supporting the need to celebrate black excellence every year.
In a tailormade letter from jail for white ‘religious’ people and today relevant for those who simply do not get why blackHistorymonth, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once that “I must make a confession to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection”.
Hence for white people, especially during #BlackHistoryMonth, it is important to seriously heed Dr. King’s words, themselves an echo of the apostle Paul’s in his letter to the early Thessalonian church to “Bear one another’s burdens”. This is because as Martin Luther King, Jr. would often say “injustice anywhere affects justice everywhere”.

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