Which is it: Celebrating History or Celebrity?
History has a broad definition, but I like the first part of Merriam Webster’s; in part it explains that it is “[…] a chronological record of significant events…” In other words, it is serious business, cannot be redefined; must not be trifled with.
The celebration of Black History Month was a much anticipated, month-long event, when it was first recognized in Montreal in the early 1990s. The annual calendar was viewed as “a collectors item,” what with its12-page highlighting of genuine people and events in Black history, with an accompanying poster, and a guide listing scheduled events of historical importance, including lectures, exhibitions, etc. It was truly a time when one could learn about real people and events in Black/African history, in keeping with Webster’s definition.
But what once was a collector’s item available to anyone interested, ostensibly because it truly presented icons who have made significant contributions to Black history. I still have several of the early calendars and posters in boxes. I’m lucky; there were years when you couldn’t find one. The day they hit the streets they went like the proverbial hot cakes, it’s as if people were hoarding them. It wouldn’t surprise me if some people were selling them, which speaks to the quality of the product back in the day.
I hear that sentiment every February and the discussion and some say “relevance of Black History Month celebrations” and the subject of the [new] calendar comes up. In many people’s opinion, over the years, the “calendar” has been reduced to something that I, and many people I know, stopped collecting years ago, simply because it has lost focus and direction, has been reduced to something, one person said, I wouldn’t even “preserve for my grandchildren…” After all, history and legacy are about preserving and bequeathing to “future generations.” With that in mind, many people have lost interest in “picking up the calendar.”
“Because it lost its historical focus and has morphed into a sort of ‘celebrity rag’,” I heard someone say in a conversation recently.
In fact, a particular woman who has done well academically and professionally, and who, for several years, successfully directed a business-oriented organization—not a black one—said back in the early years of the calendar she was asked by a colleague who worked for another organization if she would permit her name to be submitted to the selection committee for inclusion in the calendar that year. [I didn’t ask her which month she was offered.] Actually, she was the director of the para-public organization, and truly looked out for the interests of community organizations, as well as individuals, budding entrepreneurs, with whom she came in contact.
She declined the solicitation, to the chagrin of her colleague, whom she suspected had ulterior motives.
She justified her decision this way: “Nothing about my accomplishments, or what I had done in my life at that time was historical, and I feel the same way today, in 2015… Really, what have I done of historic importance?” she asked rhetorically.
It’s true, that woman (she’s an economist, not a historian) and many other people have noticed that the calendar is more about recognizing people and personal accomplishments and less about Black history. Another production could be an accompaniment to the calendar. Again, given the historic definition, the onus is on the producers to explain the historical significance of the “laureates” in this narrow community context. Discovering more, and as much as we can about Black history, is what these days are all about.
So, when asked, how are the “laureates” to date enlightening people who are interested in learning about our Black history—locally, nationally and indeed globally?
Understand me here, I am not hating; kudos to all who have been featured up to now, but do not disregard Merriam Webster.
History is about legacy, impacting present and future generations. It’s also about responsibility, being there to impart information and knowledge, especially to youth, but inspiring all whom serious about our history to make our individual contributions to the collective well being, development and progress of our stagnant community.
Over the years, the historic content of the calendar has been diluted. Think Coca-Cola. Remember that old-fashioned childhood taste of Coke? I remember; it had a very unique, unmistakable and distinct flavour. I’m talking to a certain demographic of at least four or five decades of life here, all of whom would agree that the two-liter bottle of Coca-Cola today tastes nothing like the Coke in the bottle of yesterday. The product is diluted, unrecognizable.
History lives in perpetuity. So, to paraphrase the old adage, each one must teach one. So what will the future generations, those seeking knowledge (by delving into Black/African peoples’ history, or God forbid, the history of Montreal’s Black community and its evolution) be told by the “laureates” who were ever featured in the calendar, and are still living?
I don’t know what the criteria are for the privilege of gracing the annual calendar, but I watched the CTV News on Friday 30, to witness the kick-off of BHM and a good time was clearly had by all in the room. I saw many white people too, will they (did anything that happened that evening inspire them, or instilled in them a desire to want to learn more about African/Black history)? In the Google era just about every event of historical significance is at our fingertips.
Given that all Black people have been inculcated… indoctrinated with European history (at the expense of learning about ours), what will/did those White folk in the City Hall audience to launch BHM 2015 events take away from the event… learn about Black history? It’s not just for Black folk; it’s for all folk. It’s history, the history of a people, and history of the world.
In keeping with the truth of our “re-emerging” Black history there’s still much to be learned as we continue to discover new chapters… We know the period of “the meeting/contact”: deceiving, conquering, enslaving, dehumanizing, colonizing, Christianizing… But beneath all that inhumanity there’s a rich and bountiful history, like that of other peoples inhabiting Earth. But that period, prior to contact, when Black/African peoples were venerated, was deliberately obfuscated by colonizers, but not killed. Black peoples’ history is everybody’s history, world history.
That should be the purpose and overriding and resonating message (purpose) of the calendar, and the celebration/recognition of Black History Month. Every page/month should be a teachable moment of historical significance and substance by any definition.