Black History Powers Future Resistance
Dr. Carter G. Woodson launched the first Negro History Week (the predecessor to Black History Month) in February of 1926. He chose February out of appreciation for Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln, who both celebrated their birthdays in that month.
Because of the common practice of identifying significant events and achievements with individuals, we might be tempted to overlook the fact that Woodson didn’t establish this educational movement on his own. Although Woodson died in 1950, the organization he founded is still alive and active today.
The Association for the Study of Negro Life and History is now called the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH). Since 1928, the ASALH has proclaimed a Black History theme. In the spirit of 2023’s theme of “Black Resistance,” we’re gonna list “7 things that We Not Gon’ Do” (and invite you to add your own).
- We Not Gon’ catch historical amnesia. When AP African American History is rejected because it violates an Anti-Woke law, they are making it plain that Anti-Woke = Anti-Black. We see history matters when AP African American History is judged as lacking educational value by the same people who approve AP European History, AP Japanese Language and Culture, AP German Language and Culture, AP Italian Language and Culture, and AP Spanish Language and Culture. The suppression of Black History is a major weapon of White Supremacy. As George Orwell wrote in 1984, “He who controls the past, controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.” Black History exposes the mythologies of America’s racist past and its methodologies of the present, enabling us to envision a more equitable future.
- We Not Gon’ pretend to be colorblind. As I outline in the January/February 2023 print edition of Message magazine, the US Constitution was written with 3 colorblind clauses to support and expand slavery. US History shows how adept the nation is at producing racialized policies with colorblind language. When a society’s default setting is whiteness, colorblindness will always diminish the value of people of color. As Sho Baraka says, “Thanks for the invite to your melting pot, but I feel like I’m the only one who’s melting a lot.”
But isn’t the Gospel colorblind? Aren’t Christians supposed to be colorblind? No and no. Favoritism based on differences of race, class, and sex are condemned by the gospel, but not the differences themselves. Jesus saw the differences in people. When Jesus met the woman at the well, he recognized she was a Samaritan (John 4:7-26). When Jesus encountered the Centurion seeking healing for his servant, he recognized he was Roman (Luke 7:1-10). Revelation 7:9 shows us that the innumerable individuals worshipping around Jesus’ throne come from every nation, tribe, people, and language. The gospel didn’t bleach all ethnic and racial distinctions away, because being different doesn’t mean being deficient. Leopard orchids, flame lilies, and wild foxgloves are all different, but none of these flowers are deficient. The landscape’s beauty is enhanced by their variety.
“your color-less rhetoric is a cop out
You see my skin, and I see yours
And they are beautiful, fearfully and wonderfully, divinely designed
Shouldn’t we celebrate that rather than act like it ain’t there?”
3. We Not Gon’ stop promoting black consciousness. As a people who have been de-historicized and dehumanized, there is too much deprogramming and reprogramming to do. We’re going to revisit AME Bishop Henry McNeal Turner’s argument that “God is a Negro.” We’re going to explore the Harlem Renaissance poets as they portray Jesus as Black. We’re going to acknowledge that Malcolm X’s insights were way ahead of the ‘experts’ in sociology and theology who are now warning of White christian Nationalism. We’re going to point out how history, art, theology and even the US Census continue to perpetuate one of the greatest cultural thefts in world history by bleaching the biblical world. In other words, we gon’ stay wokety, woke, woke, woke, even as we encode other terms it takes the rest of society nearly 100 years to catch up with.
In other words, we gon’ stay wokety, woke, woke, woke . .
4. We Not Gon’ let those outside the community dictate to those inside the community who and what we can appreciate and celebrate. It’s ok to celebrate the sanitized soundbites of MLK, but we must censor Malcolm’s insights? It’s ok to highlight SNCC or SCLC, but we must hide the Deacons of Defense? We can commend Rosa Parks, but have to conceal Angela Davis and Pauli Murray? It’s ok to invoke Patrick Henry’s “Give me liberty or give me death” as patriotic, but denouncement is demanded of freedom fighters like Nat Turner, Denmark Vesey, Gabriel Prosser, and Charles Deslondes? No, we not gon’ do it. We gon’ decide and debate the virtuous from the villainous for ourselves.
5. We Not Gon’ blame black mothers, especially black single mothers, for our problems. Whenever racists want to promote racist tropes, they always seem to find an Uncle willing to publicly sell us out. Such was the case shortly after the video of police brutality of Tyre Nichols was released. As if the police beating of Nichols wasn’t traumatic enough, this Uncle had to verbally abuse Black single mothers as the root of our problems. Unfortunately, it’s still true that “the most disrespected person in America is the Black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the Black woman. The most neglected person in America is the Black woman,” just like Malcolm X preached in 1962.
6. We Not Gon’ stop proclaiming liberty for the poor and oppressed, as Jesus did in the gospels:
“And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,
‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’”
Luke 4:16-19, ESV
7. We Not Gon’ let “our hearts” get “drunk with the wine of the world” and forget our God. We gon’ resist Babylon’s maddening wine of materialism, militarism, labor exploitation, and doctrinal distortions (Revelation 18). We gon’ embrace an embodied spirituality and reject the damnable dualism that allowed slaveholders to sear their consciences with the thought they could save our souls while enslaving our bodies (Genesis 2:7). We gon’ celebrate social justice by offering a weekly holiday to everyone in our circles of influence on the Sabbath, no matter what 21st century pharaohs have to say about it (Deuteronomy 5:12-15). We gon’ lift as we climb, recognizing God gives us the power to get wealth in order to be a blessing to others. Rather than the self-centered cogito of Descartes, “I think, therefore I am,” we gon’ live by the principle of ubuntu: “I am because we are.”