Black History Month: What’s there to remember, to celebrate, and to learn?

black-history-heroesThe year 2013 may have caught me off-guard with the number of headlines involving matters of race.

A white food network celebrity tries to plan a “plantation style” Southern wedding with Black servers acting as slaves.  An Hispanic white Florida neighborhood watch member is acquitted for shooting and killing a Black teenager carrying only an Arizona iced tea and a bag of skittles.  A white reality TV icon comments on the happiness of the black experience in Alabama during the 1960’s.

While these stories, causing tense and uncomfortable conversations, would not be the first of their kind, I noticed that social media now became a forum to discuss these issues and discover what our “Friends” or “Followers” really thought about the issue of race.  Social media creates, in a sense, a safety where one can possibly say or post what they please and easily “unfriend” those who disagree too boldly (or rudely).  So, all of our “feeds” (whether you personally commented or not) were full of blogs and comments with trending names like Deen, Zimmerman, and Robertson.  Not to mention the controversial comments written about this Cheerios commercial.

I learned this past year that, while we may agree we’ve made significant strides on race issues, there is a great deal of confusion on where we currently stand, and I’ve learned that place we stand tends to fall along the lines of race.

The month of February in our country and many others is the month we celebrate the history of the African diaspora, also known as Black History Month.  That we have a month dedicated to celebrating and remembering the history of a particular race may even cause some contention.  I propose, in light of the events this past year, for us to come to a place of understanding by looking back and remembering the events brought us to this point.

What’s there to remember?  What’s to celebrate?  What can we learn?

We remember human beings with intrinsic worth from their Creator were brought chained in ships, humiliated, in deplorable conditions and many died en route.

We remember men, women, and children were only considered to be three-fifths of a white person.

We remember that even blacks that were not slaves were not free.

We remember that after freedom from almost 300 years of slavery, started an emancipation process that has not ended and that continued suffering and injustice based on skin color.

We remember the process involved separate bathrooms, water fountains, restaurants, Jim Crow laws and other such laws to remind blacks that they were still inferior, even though not slaves.

We remember that, through out this time in history and even today, black men have been unjustly incarcerated, given the death penalty, and ultimately killed only to find later that they were innocent of the crimes for which they were condemned.

When we remember, we honor those who suffered and we can grieve with those who grieve.

But we cannot honor without also pressing forward and redeeming the experiences of others.

We need to also acknowledge those who have accomplished justice and pressed on despite having to live in a dark place.

We need celebration.

We celebrate that God redeems even the most horrific of experiences and is still redeeming it today.

We celebrate the faith that grew out of a race of people, and that faith was the driving factor of their freedom.  Defeat did not win.

We celebrate the many white advocates along the way who risked their reputations, their livelihoods, and their lives because they could no longer bear the sight of injustice and would risk everything to see it stop.

We celebrate the many who have succeeded and overcome the seemingly insurmountable challenges to achieve great things.

Remembering and celebrating, we honor our history and we can look toward the future.  What can we still learn and where do we grow from here? 

We learn that taking ownership of and defending our country’s history and its successes also means taking responsibility for its failures.  It also means that we acknowledge that our successes came, significantly, through the slave labor of blacks.

We learn that emancipation can be a process, rather than an event.  The event left blacks never having been compensated financially for the time they worked, nor for the time their ancestors worked.  It never fully validated their existence and their humanity.  Even if they had been compensated at that moment in 1865 for all the work they and their relatives had done, so much damage had taken place to their human existence on the basis of skin color that there would still exist an enormous emotional and spiritual deficit that would be need payment for generations to come.

We learn and acknowledge that we still live in this process today.

We learn that the advocates in power, who risked so much, are the advocates we need today to move the process forward from here.

Healing will require more of us – most of which requires courage to approach this outside of social media.

It requires honest conversations in coffee shops, in churches, in break rooms.

Healing requires we reach out to our co-worker and neighbor of a different color and get to know them for whom they really are.  It requires humility.  It requires time to learn about what we don’t know and why we don’t know it.

Why were these 2013 headlines so divisive?  What is it that we don’t know about the black minority experience?  Dialogue is key.  What are some of your thoughts about this?   How do you celebrate Black History?

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About Michelle Blanco

Michelle Blanco was originally born in Puerto Rico, grew up in Kissimmee, FL, and now lives in Orlando, FL with her wonderful husband, JT and the cutest kids in the world - Joshua and Mercedes. Michelle has served as a missionary both overseas and domestic, but also was a singer/actor at a local theme park and loves talking theology, music, and movies. Oh, and she loves to act silly.
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