It’s too hard to celebrate black history when I still feel like I’m living it.
This is not a love song or a testimony or a memorial or a f***ing poem.
Two weeks ago, an Oakland mother lost her second son in less than a month to gun violence. A month into the year and a parent of two is now a childless mother.
On the other side of the country, the President and First Lady celebrated her birthday with a long list of rappers, athletes, and entertainers, after spending much of last year scolding black youth for aspiring to such careers.
And even though Marissa and CeCe are finally free, these black women spent too many days of their lives being unjustly caged for protecting themselves against violent attackers.
You know who won’t be serving any time as a convicted criminal? George Zimmerman, the man who stalked and killed a black teenager three years ago this month. Randall Kerrick, the officer who shot an accident victim, Jonathan Ferrell, 10 times as he reached out for help. And Alrashim Chambers, one of the two men who killed my high school friend, a black trans woman, Victoria Carmen White.
This year I can’t do Black History Month. I can’t commemorate a struggle we’re still fighting. I can’t honor all the soldiers we’ve lost when we’re still in the middle of a goddam war. And I can’t help but feel like we’re missing a commander-in-chief, even though there’s a black man sitting in the White House.
Every twenty-eight hours, a black man is killed by a police officer or a vigilante. Every day, a child gets unjustly charged as an adult for crimes that he or she didn’t commit. Black women are being killed by intimate partners two and a half times more often than their white counterparts, and black transgender folks are eight times more likely to end up in extreme poverty than any other American. And half of all black men are arrested by the age of 23.
Let me tell you, I’m weary. Because every single day, I have to bear the burden of knowing all these things and still need to find the energy to explain a misogynistic, racist, transphobic, and sexist system to people who can’t even be bothered to believe that such a thing exists.
My brilliant colleagues still toil away writing pieces about white privilege, create comic strips to explain sexism, and curate online panels to discuss the latest act of oppression. After making black feminist critique and philosophy widely available for (at least) three decades, activists on social media still need to expend energy explaining why making fun of black AIDS victims, throwing retreats at former slave plantations, and wearing blackface just isn’t OK in 2013.
Honestly, it’s too hard to celebrate black history when I still feel like I’m living it.
I try to tell myself there’s a lot to be grateful for, and I can appreciate how far we’ve come despite all the obstacles that continue to stand in our way. Slavery, sharecropping, lynching, convict leasing, black codes: abolished. But sneaky versions of the same systems keep popping up, like a mythic dragon with regenerating, undying heads. Sixty years after Brown vs. The Board of Education, we’re still fighting for black children to get equal access to a public education. The Supreme Court struck down the voting rights act last year. Every missed opportunity for justice is one too many, and the unending onslaught of murder and imprisonment and societal neglect in communities of color is too much to stand.
So I’m going to spend the month cavorting with my foremothers, meditating on their courage, and seeking solace in their strength. I’m going to weep with Zora Neale Hurston and ponder empathy with Octavia Butler. I’ll find endurance in the mundane journals of Ida B. Wells and renewal at the feet of Sojourner Truth. I’ll let Nina Simone, Bessie Smith, and even Prophet Beyonce sing me lullabies to sleep. I will rest.
This Black History Month will be a time of healing for everything endured during the other 11 months of the year. I will make it a reprieve, a space of reflection and soul-building. I will light candles and paint and love and run and travel and teach and talk and dance and write and everything else to remind myself that these folks from whom I descend are more than history—they are with me, guiding me, watching over me right now.
And if I’m lucky, some of you will join me. Because while this is not an ode to Black History Month, it is indeed a love letter to my folks.
Khadijah Costley White is a faculty member in the Department of Journalism and Media Studies at Rutgers University in New Brunswick. Find her on Twitter here.