It’s that time of year again, Black History Month. Every February in the United States, the country sets aside 28 (or 29 in a leap year) days to celebrate, discuss and engage Black History. Innocuous enough. And yet Feb. 1st seems to signal the beginning of a 28-day long ritual of whining (how come they get their own month?), misconceptions and endless micro-aggressive racial faux-pas. And this isn’t just from the usual sky boxes of white privilege; there are black people (looking in your general direction Stacey Dash) who wade into…well…the stupid. So here are a few tips to better understand the month, both for those who have to endure the stupid and for those who might be enticed to engage in the stupid.
This is just an updated list from an annual post I’ve done for the last two years. But guess what? It never gets old because the stupid never changes.
This year, over 8 cities abolished Columbus Day. Many in fact adopted Indigenous Peoples Day’ as a replacement. The move reflects a growing acknowledgement by larger society of the meaning and historical legacy of Christopher Columbus and “Age of Exploration.” It’s a victory, albeit a minor one. History of course can move backwards as well as forwards. And there are those forces who are determined to keep Columbus as a transnational hero: to give a one-sided perspective–often apologist–of the era. The truth is that the abolishing of a commemoration can’t possibly erase the enormity of the crimes of which Columbus will forever remain a symbol. He is a part of our latent fears. The ones that we fill our stories with as we look out upon the stars. He is our original invader from Mars.
Originally written in 2013, this is the final chapter in a three-part installment on Christopher Columbus beginning with The Other Explorers and Hunting Prestor John in the End Times. This post ponders how the destruction of the Americas, and the accompanying legacies of colonialism and slavery, help shape the fears of our popular imaginings–including science fiction.
In the wake of a controversy over who the culture of an entire continent belongs to within the context of its far-flung descendants (many quite involuntarily flung at that), I revisit a set of blog posts I wrote several years ago regarding speculative fiction, world building, “appropriation” and the Africa of our imaginations. Can one appropriate the self?
On July 5, 1852, runaway slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglass gave a stinging speech on celebrations of American patriotism in the midst of slavery, declaring “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” He gave the speech in Rochester, NY at a holiday celebration that is now forgotten in much of popular American memory–July Fifth, the day free blacks in New York celebrated the abolition of slavery in the state, first set in motion in 1799. Disallowed from marching and participating on July 4th with fellow whites (singly because they were black), African-Americans in New York seized July 5th as the “Black Man’s Independence Day” (‘man’ here should have also included women of course, but… 19th century) and celebrated with speeches, processions and other rituals throughout the day. Douglass used his speech that July 5th in Rochester, some two years after the passage of the notorious Fugitive Slave Act that made the lives of free blacks precarious and dangerous, to lambast the United States for what he saw as its profound hypocrisy–a nation that declared itself a bastion of freedom while owning and heavily profiting (both North and South) from the institution of slavery. It was a paradox that had existed since the dawn of the nation’s founding and was enshrined in some of its most sacred documents–including the Declaration of Independence. The Fourth of July and slavery, as do black Americans and the United States, share a complex and entangled history.
In the bleakest of moments African-American writers have turned to literature to confront racial terror and the trauma it could induce–turning to poetry, personal narratives, plays and novels. Sometimes, they even dreamed of the fantastic.