This is going to be a really short piece, because I don’t want to waste my time with this, but here goes. A few years ago, I would go out of my way to share that Morgan Freeman quote. I would get pats on the back from Libertarian friends and it was all good. The problem with playing that Morgan Freeman quote over and over again is that there is little to no reflection on the context in which Black History Month was given birth. Why not remind us who signed the bill into law? It was a Republican President, Ronald Reagan for starters. I don’t think Reagan conservatives are ones for being “politically correct.”
No one questions “Why is there a Native American History month?” No one asks every year, “Why is there an Asian Pacific American Month or a Hispanic Heritage Month?” No not ever. You want to know why? Because those months have nothing to do with Black people. That’s why. In a country founded on anti-Blackness and African enslavement, Black people, yes, I am including African Americans and immigrants from the Diaspora, are not supposed to celebrate anything. The dominant culture would rather us forget about histories of state violence and whitewash U.S. History and Blacks’ contributions to American society.
So, my answer to the question, “Why is there a Black History Month?” is simply this: NOPE! I have no interest in apologizing for Blacks’ full humanity and existence. Commemorating the achievements and literature of African Americans is not a crime. Only in a society that is still committed to antiblackness can succeed in vilifying such an occassion. What I am not for is a Black History Month that exists as a ritual that reminds Black people annually of our need to assimilate to the dominant culture. That is still reinscribing White Supremacy. Black History Month exists, as Tommy J Curry says, as a reminder of the utter contradictions of Black life, as Black people look to move forward looking to Black theology, the Black Church, Black philosophy, Black culture and Black music as sources of liberation.
Lastly, on the question of “well, what about a White History month?’ Whiteness is a social position and in the United States context, that means the oppression of European immigrants such as the Irish, the Germans, and Italians. So, for example, the government could probably do away with Christopher Columbus Day, and have an Italian Heritage Month. The more months, the merrier!
Photo Description (Source: Clearwater Public Library via Flick. A montage of various books by African American authors plus the images of Rosa Parks, Nelson Mandela, Jackie Robinson, Muhammed Ali, and the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. )
Goooooooood morning everypony! I know that January really wasn’t all that busy here on PJ because I had been working and preparing for this month, and a few blogging events for February I’d like to refer to as Freedom February. With Black History Month, President Days’ and birthdays, and Constitution Day (Mexico) ahead for us, I thought I would various discussions on freedom and justice would be in order (from a theological standpoint.
1.Your Fave Theologian Is Problematic is a blog series inspired by the tumblr meme which had various criticisms of people’s favorite celebrities. I think part of justice criticisms is a resistance to idolatry, and I believe that many theologians have been considered part of some Holier Than Thou Status. Towards this end, I am inviting anyone from ANY AND EVERY perspective to submit guest posts that give critical appreciations of various Christian writers and scholars. Various friends have already taken the following theologians: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Mary Daly, C.S. Lewis, and a friend has proposed doing a profile on me, yours truly. Outside of these choices, pieces for any Christian thinker/writer are welcome for submission. If you would like to contact us before I send out the call for contributions, either: tweet at us on the Twitters at @Political_Jesus, message us on our Facebook page, send us fan mail/a message on Tumblr, or simply use the Contact Us page on this site.
2. The Power Of Love : The Power of Love is a series about me re-reading works specifically by James Hal Cone and other liberation theologians, and exploring the idea of relationality in their works. I propose that Liberation theology is a relational theology, and that one cannot truly have a relational theology without a proper examination (and practice) of just relationships. In many Christian circles today, evangelical, emergent/missional, and mainline churches stress the importance of personal relationships. But in what ways is this approach a reflection of oppressive structures in society? I will use this series to explore just that!
3. ONE CHURCH MANY TRIBES: With an editorial staff of five, we are launching a Christian educational anti-racist website for the Church. Named to honor the legacy the late Richard L. Twiss, One Church Many Tribes will feature guest posts, personal stories, and sermons that deal with racial reconciliation and racial justice. Keep up with the 1CMT on Facebook, on Twitter [at] @ManyTribalists, and Tumblr.
DID I DO THAT?: REDEFINING BLACKNESS WHILE REJECTING STEVE URKEL
English: This chart shows three groups of major contributors to the flowering of the New Negro Movement during the 1920’s and 1930’s in Harlem: Niggerati writers, New Negro intellectuals and Negrotarian patrons. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
In my previous posts, I discussed how religious leaders, both humanist and Christian, redefined what it meant to be an African American living on U.S. American shores. Being black is not something that is fixed and static. It is ever changing, just as all cultures are ever changing and fluid. Problems occur when people of all “colors” (colors/races which are social constructs) try to cling on to a solitary definition of what it means to be from this or that racial identity. To deny the fact that this change occur is a very denial of our very own humanity. Fixed notions of race and social identity in term of nationality make it easier for racist and nationalist gazes to fix themselves upon persons who live on the margins of society. This is why it is ever important for cultural change-agents to continually challenge racial and cultural stereotype as resistance to hegemony.
One such example? Frederick Douglass:
Frederick Douglass, if you ever read his Narrative, was determined to learn how to read and write. He faced consequences for his learning, but he used his education for the benefit of the down-trodden. In my post about theologian James Cone, I mentioned that he worked to redefine African American experiences in the USA, and he stresses that he was influenced by Malcolm X and his notions of blackness. It was Malcolm X that made the label of “negro” (something that was imposed on black Americans by whites) one of shame, and black, a matter of pride, something evil that was reclaimed for good. Malcolm X however did not write and think from some blank slate. No, he was raised by a father who was caught up in the theories of the Harlem Renaissance movement. More specifically, the New Negro Movement; the New Negro Movement was started by a group of writers and cultural creators in the late 19th century through the 1930’s. The New Negro Movement, with persons such as Hubert Harrison, Marcus Garvey, and Countee Cullen, sought to challenge what it meant to be a Negro American in those days. The Negro Churches (African American Christianity after Emancipation/before the Civil Rights Movement) was portrayed as being lead backwater, immoral priests (read W.E.B. DuBois study “The Negro Church”)and the institution was far to ineffective in addressing the economic oppression caused by Jane and Jim Crow.
Some thinkers in the New Negro Movement thought promoting the idea that repossessing Africa by African Americans would be a sign to prove that African Americans were valuable and worthy of being seen as human. This was why Marcus Garvey made a name for himself back then. The New Negro Movement was seen as a threat to the status quo: one example is that Hubert Harrison, senior editor for a New Negro magazine lost his job because he challenged Booker T. Washington’s leadership. Booker T. Washington was seen as THE Negro leader in the eyes of whites, and to confront his power was to challenge his ability to speak for the Negro race.
The New Negro Movement rejected what it meant to be a Negro prior to the Great Depression; the Black Power movement discarded the label “Negro” and all the problems that went with it. One of the problems, like the solution of going back to claim Africa, seems to ring of an imitation of Europe, to colonize African societies just so Negroes “can earn” their humanity. Starting empire would not be the best way to prove how human you were; it would be just another display of inhumanity. The Black Power movement was about Black people loving themselves, accepting themselves as who they were, situated here on North American shores. Afro-centrism was about bringing Africa to the States.
While I won’t get into the problems of essentialism and problems I have with Afro-centrism here, the point of reclaiming Blackness in the late 1960s was a matter of self-affirmation. Yes, the black power movement made tremendous progress in bringing to light achievements by African Americans in history, but with cultural and political backlash, it became impotent in challenging Reagan conservativism, the Southern Strategy, and the school-to-prison pipeline. Blacks’ roles in society were stuck in the quagmire of being “the athlete” and “entertainer” all the while being stereotyped as lazy and evil. That’s why we could have Michael Jordan and Oprah Winfrey speak for us, as Booker T. Washington spoke for us because of their cultural achievement and choices not to challenge the status quo. Being a black nerd, someone who refused to just an entertainer or jock, was something to be ashamed of.
During the Harlem Renaissance, George Schuyler wrote a science fiction novel entitled Black No More where a business had discovered the cure to racism: a machine to turn Negroes white. If everyone is white, there would be no racism! In the hit 80s show, Family Matters, the program chronicles the awkward misadventures of one Steve Urkel, a clumsy but brilliant black science nerd. Urkel’s nerdiness is the barrier that keeps him from his true love, Laura Winslow, so Urkel has an idea. An invention that will transform him from geek to chic (the character Stephon Urkel), so he can win Laura’s heart. The problem with this is that we never ask if Steve loved himself first. Black nerds were to be ashamed of themselves, as things to be negated; meanwhile, Laura, Eddie, and Rachel Winslow stand as the norms expected by middle class blacks, I mean, Tyler Perry.
The brilliance behind the cult classic movie, “Scott Pilgrim Versus The World” is found in the genius ending. Rather than this being the same old same ole narrative about a guy fighting for the love of his life, Scott Pilgrim wins at the end because he “earns the Power of Self-Respect.” In the same way, I think the Blerd movement is important (for this point in time, anyhow), to return African Americans back to the Black Power movement’s original purpose of celebrating black self-respect. Blerd is also important as a label for me because all of my life I have struggled to embrace my nerdiness and my blackness together. Blerd as a label for me expresses what it means hybridity, to have a complex identity that can’t be simplified. More importantly, Blerd maintains the importance of not just education, but being bookish, well read and well aware of the world around us. Blerd is subversive. Blerd is both the present and the future.
A couple of ideas on how to move BLERD forward:
1st, I think it is important that the face of blerddom not be bound up by popular blerd male figures:
Blerd should be viewed as a gender-inclusive term. Part of the problem with the Black Power Movement is that many of its figure heads were down right misogynist, and we need to recognize that history if we are to move forward. Elderidge Clever is but one example, Huey Newton another. When it comes to redefining black identities, it should be an effort by women and men respectfully. And let’s not forget, a lot of the most important “blerds” in U.S. American history were women: Octavia Butler, Pauline Hopkins, Zora Neale Hurston, Shirley Chisolm, and Ida B. Wells just to name a few!
Secondly, in an American society that has become more anti-intellectual and more hostile toward integrated, public education, Blerd should be willing to make literacy sexy and hott. Books, whether we are talking about on Kindle, iPad, paperback, and hardcover, are the best alternatives to moving forward (except for garbage like the Twilight series, but I digress). Over and against the plantation antics of Lil’ Wayne and Beyonce, Blerd must resist our culture’s dependency on negative black stereotypes.