DISCLAIMER: I originally wrote this article in the Northern Review, for the week of January 14, 2008. I added "Martin Luther King Day" in some places to add to or replace "Black History Month" because I feel the sentiment expressed is easily applicable to MLK Day as well as Black History Month. Other than that, this was a pretty much copy and paste job. The poem at the bottom is Nikki Giovanni, 4-6-68.
That time of year is right around the corner. You know what I mean, the time after all the holidays are over when celebrating anything is the last thing on your mind? Perfect timing for one of the most necessary yet abrasive celebrations in the U.S. I’m speaking of Martin Luther King Day and Black History Month.
The reason I would use a word like “abrasive” when describing Martin Luther King Day, is because as a maturing black man I realize that not everyone gets the same feeling of tradition and history from it that I do. I love learning about Dr. King, my people and where we’ve come from, just as all cultures treasure their history.
I know a lot of times, white kids aren’t constantly aware of their interest in learning about their history, and I suspect its because of being constantly surrounded by their history. I mean look around, watch the news, stats are always coming up about things that have happened in the past relating to current times, that have white people as the subjects. It’s part of the benefits of being the majority.
Let me pause here with a disclaimer that this is not a “Black Man’s Plight” rant. I’m not that kind of dude. From talking with friends of mine who happen to be white and simply from living life around white people and watching, actively, I have come to realize that there is somewhat of an aversion or apathy towards Black History Month, or at the least uneasiness about their role in it. Actually I have seen this sentiment with a lot of people who aren’t black or who haven’t lived around black American culture for any lengthy period of time.
This is understandable; I mean honestly who wants to be told that their ancestors were treacherous slavers who disregarded the universal humanity of an entire continent for...money? Not me! But people of the Caucasian persuasion should realize that not everything is about them. I mean it is, but it isn’t.
Martin Luther King Day and Black History Month are not times for black people to hate on white people and what they have done or continue to do. No, instead it is a time of education, a time for both black and white people to look on the past with the future in mind, to learn from mistakes made and to gain insight into the minds of the people of the time.
I learn so much from history, especially from the history of my people. It’s not just about Dr. King, not to take anything from him, but there are so many unique and intriguing stories of black people, like Dr. Hiram Revels, the first black U.S. Senator and by default, the first black U.S. Congressman. There was also Nat “Sweetwater” Clifton, the first contracted black NBA player. These people contributed in their own ways to the freedoms others may take for granted today, and in doing so, demonstrated the courage and strength that was necessary to achieve what they did.
Taking the time out to learn about these stories is what makes Martin Luther King Day such an awe-inspiring time. So if not active apathy, what should a white person or any knowledge-seeking individual for that matter, do during Martin Luther King Day? I know I have friends who aren’t black who don’t know what to do during this month, so they pretty much stay in their rooms. Don’t do that! No one is asking for an apology from you for something you didn’t do, but if you would like to show your black friends that you care, attend one of the events held on campus. Make an effort to learn something that might not be in your major or normal area of interest. Show your support by simply showing your face. This is not meant to be accusatory, but instead I am imploring you to actively embrace opportunities for your enlightenment. You can’t possibly know how much it really matters.
"The Funeral of Martin Luther King, Jr."
His headstone said
FREE AT LAST, FREE AT LAST
But death is a slave's freedom
We seek the freedom of free men
And the construction of a world
Where Martin Luther King could have lived and
Happy Martin Luther King Day!