Friday, February 27, 2009 Guest Post: Black History Month Tragedies.

[Editor's Note: Yep, it's Thembi-time.]

Black History Month falls into that category of “things I’d like to re-purpose to fit my selfish needs.” The concept of having a month dedicated to any history at all follows the delusional thinking that the rest of the year is spent celebrating knowledge, something that America rarely does in bulk. Breast Cancer Month is a slightly different type of observance that is more along the lines of what February should be for the black cause - more “doing stuff” and less “thinking about stuff.” Even when you break down the phrase “Black History Month,” you get a bunch of ambiguous terms - “black” has been a troubling definition for the past hundred years or so, as my pop culture quiz demonstrates “history” has no easy start and end point, and the “month” means little more than when the rent is due again.

As sick as it makes me when the racists disguised as “we’re all equal,” freedom-fighters speak out against the notion of a month dedicated to black history while ignoring Women’s History, Hispanic Heritage, or Native American Heritage Months, there is plenty of ridiculousness to be found in Black History Month. Conventional wisdom says that schools and cultural organizations should at least give a nod to the contributions that black people have made to this great country during February (you know I love a good high school assembly), but how do we know when things have gone too far?

What’s the difference between praise and pandering? Thembi is on the case.

The Displays

There is nothing that makes my eyes roll harder than a Black History Month-themed display in a store or even worse, a Black History Month promotion. There is something so grossly opportunistic about having teenage stock-boys across the country simultaneously create displays dedicated to rubbing my slave descendant spending g-spot into buying stuff that “black people like.” Case in point:

Tuck your jaw back in because yes, this is a real drugstore display in Muskegon, Michigan. You know that Afrocentric black folks cannot resist burlap or funky ethnic patterns, black paintings draped in said cloth, Jet Magazine, or relaxer touch-up kits. In fact what better time of year to make sure you have a fresh perm or curl than February? And what better offering is there for the Negro on-the-go than yams and collard greens…in cans …from a drugstore? And then there’s the obvious, knee-jerk type of tragedy:

There’s something about this time of year that makes me think of cotton too…I just don’t know why…

The Very Special Episodes

Y’all know I love it. Nothing panders like a poorly contrived sitcom plot, and I remember this black history episode of Family Matters like it came on yesterday. I actually went to school with a chip on my shoulder for the rest of the month because of the moment at 9:45. Don’t let Steve Urkel and the question of whatever happened to Laura’s lil’ redbone friend Maxine dissuade you from at least a quick skim:

“If you want black history go back to Africa”? No thanks, they don’t have Black History Month there. The rest of the episode with the glorious black history wall and sad speeches about hate from Harriet and Grandma Winslow is on YouTube if you’re interested.

The Advertising

Having worked in consumer product promotions I know that getting shoppers caught up in the rapture of savings is a great short-term sales boosting strategy. If you can attach those savings to a theme it’s all the better, because it just feels so good to participate in something. Of course, Black History Month at a supermarket can only mean three things. Two of them are crude kinte cloth patterns and George Washington Carver. The other?

Frying chickens, pork hocks, and more collard greens! And…

Hot sauce! Grape and orange soda! Cornbread! Lawry’s Seasoning Salt! Obama Memorabilia and . . . more collard greens! Inclusion really, really makes me hungry.

The Products

Black folks are notorious for ending up financially disenfranchised and I’m so sick of it. This is why check cashing spots exist - if you weren’t living check to check and had a checking account like your average white man, you wouldn’t need to pay an exorbitant fee just to get money that is already yours! The same goes for a credit or debit card. Anyone who went to college was force-fed a credit card along with promises of a free t-shirt during the first week of freshman year, so the fact that black folks don’t even have debit cards in this day and age really says a lot. But a Black History Month Pre-Paid Credit Card? Really?

Ohhh . . . so you’re not supposed to spend money that you don’t actually have? Black History Month is a time for learnin’!

Question: Is Black History Month still worth something or has it jumped the shark? Have you run into any notable Black History Month tragedies?

More From Thembi [WWTD Blog]

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