What happened to Black History Month?

Does anyone know what happened to Black History Month? There was a time not too long ago when it seemed like wherever one turned, you couldn’t help but see new facts about Black achievement. It was how students and adults alike got a deeper look into how

Sometimes it seemed we would run out of Black history information, but that never occurred. Scholars and everyday people interested in giving us answers kept unearthing data and news that somehow had been overlooked. Schools – whether they had a majority Black population or not – seemed eager to have exhibits, plays and programs honoring what our ancestors accomplished.

But somewhere it seemed Black History Month got hijacked, or at the very least, compromised. The other day’s mail included a bright post card calling on all recipients to show up at a fashion event that also would feature shoes. Given that the show is just before Valentine’s Day, it was no surprise there was a mention of safe sex.

What was surprising was that the piece was pushing Black History Month – talk about a stretch. Sketches of two prominent Black historical figures were on the cover and the word ‘And’ connected the Black History Month and Valentine’s Day.

Of course this operation isn’t the only one desecrating the intention of Black History Month, but apparently anything that can drive traffic to an enterprise is fair game. This boutique isn’t the only business in the city turning an important time in our community into something frivolous and money-oriented. Radio commercials for clothing retailers, especially, unabashedly tell listeners to show up and get a discount or some trinket in exchange for a product; and we are supposed to go there because it’s Black History Month.

The days and times of honoring Black folk in this country are so sparse, that it seems we would all embrace them with a serious tone, and not follow the example of the rest of the country which turns birthdays of former leaders into a reason to rush stores. It’s also saddening that all of the intense negotiations, demonstrations, and petitions to establish Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday as a holiday also have been reduced to a call to the malls.

At least one local store had the audacity to hold a “post Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. birthday sale.” As a people, it seems pride would trump a “hook-up” on a leather jacket. Conversely there are operations such as one of the country’s leading fast food chains that produce marketing campaigns holding up Black history as something to be proud of and learn more about.

The corporation spends millions on print ads and radio commercials – not just in February, but throughout the year. Fortunately, a number of mainstream news outlets also have picked up the Black History Month mantle – offering pages of photos and facts about our past. And it’s not just news operations in urban centers, but ones with only a smattering of Black folk in the viewing, listening or circulation range.

This week we witnessed a piece of history that will be recorded and retold for decades, if not a hundred years or so. Just two nights ago, U.S. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) won more than half of the states holding primaries or caucuses to pick the Democratic nominee for the presidential race. Collectively, Black folk running for president over the years have not done that well.

Despite all of the previous discussion about the senator’s ethnic makeup, Black folk are embracing him more than ever. Every accomplishment is not just a political milestone, but Black history. The most money raised by any Black candidate, the most primaries and caucuses won by any Black candidate and the first time a Black candidate will go to the nominating convention with only one opponent.

And this is history that’s not likely to be replicated in the near future. In Black history, we are at the point where if there was a Black Mt. Rushmore, Obama’s image would be one of those carved into the rocks. We share this history with Obama – each of us.

And how would any of us feel if all it meant was 10 percent off at the store or a free drink at the club?

______ Copyright 2008 Chicago Defender. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.  

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