It took me a long time, growing up in a predominantly white town, to discover how much I actually loved being black but I didn’t want to just be labeled as that. As a writer, I didn’t want to only be in one category. I wanted to be able to reach across cultural lines and appeal to all readers but still celebrate the things that made me who I am.
There was a lot of controversy in the news recently related to the statements made by Stacey Dash about how she thought the Oscars boycott was stupid and if black Americans really want to be a part of the mainstream culture they should do away with things like BET and Black History Month. I want people to realize these things aren’t about separating Black Americans, they are about celebrating their culture.
Does your family have any special celebrations at Christmas time? Do you have memories of older family members sharing stories of how those traditions started and the people who started them?
Are you a first generation citizen or even a second or third? Have you heard the stories about “the old country” or the journey your ancestors took to get to where they wanted to go, which ultimately lead you being to where you are today?
Now, what if someone told you that those activities, which didn’t disrespect another culture, shouldn’t be celebrated or remembered if you really wanted to fit in? How would that make you feel? If someone said, “You can’t have those carrots your great great grandmother use to give you because typically mainstream culture only likes celery.” You might not get any or even be offered the chance to get some celery, but you still shouldn’t have those carrots — they’re just focusing on how different you are.
Would you learn these stories in a traditional school? Would it be a part of the curriculum, that your great Uncle Isaac was the first Hispanic man to be the president of his company? Probably not.
Black History Month is the chance for African Americans to step back and share the story of their past — a story that is otherwise largely neglected. It’s a chance to not just share the slavery aspect of our story, but the stories of the inventors, the activists and the game changers.
Contrary to what the Donald Trumps and Stacey Dashes of the world think, wanting to be able to celebrate what makes us who we are without being persecuted or limited by it, isn’t the same as wanting to “have it both ways.”
People don’t want segregation and integration. We want integration and acknowledgement.
It’s not as if black Americans are getting the month off from work or requesting restoration payment in February; we just want our stories heard.
Networks like BET and the NAACP Image Awards weren’t created because we want to be treated special. They were created to provide a platform for people of color who didn’t otherwise have a platform to perform or a stage on which to be recognized for their work. It is the same reason there are networks like Lifetime, or CMT or Disney Channel, because people like to feel connected, listened to and acknowledged.
You see it across culture and gender lines, with Cosmopolitan for Latina, Women’s History Month, Deaf Awareness Month, Lebanese Heritage Festivals, Hispanic Heritage Month and the list goes on and on.
People have a biological desire to feel connected, and these events and organizations give them that.
Disregarding these cultural events isn’t going to automatically turn the world into one PR-perfect multicultural magazine ad. Taking away cultural celebrations isn’t going to make the mainstream acknowledge different cultures’ history or work.
America is often referred to as the world’s melting pot, so in this stew of American humanity every flavor has a right to be savored and celebrated — celery and carrots.