by Miyah Bouknight
Every year, once a year, the month of February comes and goes. And with it rolls around a number of holidays and celebrations. For the romantics, February is a time to celebrate loved ones. For sports fans, February means Super Bowl season, but for me and many other African Americans, February is a chance to represent our culture. It is a time to celebrate our heritage, reflect on the progress we’ve made as a people, and most of all, be unapologetically black.
This year though, I can’t help but notice that the air that surrounds black history month feels particularly different. At first, I thought it was because the lives of Mr. Floyd and Ms. Taylor still weighed so heavily on the hearts of many. Then, I thought, perhaps its feels different because of every riot, protest, march, and movement that we’ve all been witness to these last few months. At one point, I even thought, “maybe it’s just me.” After I couldn’t come up with an answer off the top of my head, I decided to take a step back and look at the facts.
Fact #1: I have been black my entire life, and until recently I’ve never seen Black History Month celebrated anywhere outside of the black community. Now, this could be because the majority of my life I attended majority white schools, and other than a supplemental Dr. King quote, Black History Month was barely talked about, let alone celebrated. Attending majority white schools during crucial developmental years comes with its own set self-esteem and identity issues. Not seeing Black History Month celebrated outside of my home led me to think my culture was something that had to be hidden. It almost made me feel as if my blackness was something that I needed to suppress in order to fit in and be like everyone else. Thankfully, somewhere along the way, I stopped caring so much about “What would they think if I wore this” or “what would people think if I did this.” Then, and only then, I was able to embrace every part of who I am as a person.
Fact #2: Representation matters! When I look around in the media now, I see black men and women in powerful positions everywhere. In the past few years alone we’ve seen so much more representation of black faces in television and media platforms other than sports. I was 10 years old when Disney released the Doc McStuffinscartoon series. Even though I was beyond the target age of the show, I remember being so excited about it coming out because I had never seen a character like myself in a cartoon. If cartoon characters weren’t white, they were pink, yellow, or any other color that wasn’t black. When I had actually watched a few episodes, I noticed that in the show, Doc’s race was never mentioned. In a way, that made me happy too. It meant that the show was just about Doc and who she was as a toy doctor. And even though she was black, she was seen for what she did and not how she looked while doing it.
Now I look around and see black people doing amazing things and being recognized for their talents and accomplishments. I get a sense of pride when I see things like three black performers at the Superbowl, or the two finalists for the Australian open, who were two black females. It’s things like this that make me realize that we literally are black history here and now. And even though everything is not perfect, we’ve definitely come far, and still have further to go.
After considering the facts and taking a moment to reflect on Black History Months passed, I see now that I was right… partially. Yes, this Black History Month is indeed different from the ones that have come before. And yes, it is because of Mr. Floyd, Ms. Taylor, every riot, every protest, every march, and every movement. Yet, it’s also because of every social media post that brought awareness to issues within the black community. It’s because of every cent invested into a black owned business. It’s because of every large corporation that is making an effort to bring awareness to our little corner of history. Like YouTube, who did a Black History Month spotlight on black creators. Or Nike, who released an entire line of Black History inspired athletic wear in celebration of the month.
I’ve finally come to the realization of why the “feeling” of Black History Month felt different this year. I feel it every time I walk around the campus of my predominately white institution, known to most as a PWI, and see signs, newsletters and events dedicated to the celebration of Black History Month. This Black History Month “feels” so different because I finally feel recognized. The air itself seems to hold a sense of understanding that just wasn’t there before. And yes, I am aware that not everyone is going to understand, or even want to understand, but there has been so much ground covered in building the bridge between the black community and mainstream culture. Even though we are continuing to make progress, there is a ton of work that still needs to be done.
Even when February is over, when all the signs, banners, and promotions are gone away, and when all the music stops, there will still be work to do. The marathon continues. Don’t let the progress that we’ve made thus far be forgotten just because the topic isn’t trending anymore. Think of this as movie instead of a cameo. Let’s not confuse this movement for a trend.