Last night I went home for dinner and halfway through my brother said, “I don’t understand the point of Black History Month.” Silence. I took a deep breath, put down my cutlery and looked at my mum. “You were just like that at his age,” she said. Five minutes of heated discussion later I picked up my cutlery as I realised I was fighting a loosing battle.
I heard the same words come from my brothers mouth that had came from mine a few years before. “I do not see myself as black, it is a part of me but it does not define me.”
I was the only black child in my nursery, one of three black children at primary school and then when I went on to secondary school I was always the only black person in my year.
Looking back, I think that like most of my peers my teenage years were filled with the desire to be just like everyone else – think side fringe of 2008. So, in an attempt to be the same as my white counterparts I rejected blackness or anything I associated with ‘being black’.
Rejection is not the right word, let’s call it denial.
In my denial I refused to mix with my mum’s Nigerian friends and their children, I did not want to speak to my family in Nigeria, I didn’t want my friends to know I listened to Kanye West and I wouldn’t be seen dead in a pair of gold hoops. I consciously and subconsciously pushed away anything that would highlight my blackness.
Because in the mind of my teenage self, owning my blackness would mean that I would have to embrace my colour, my history, the struggles of black people across the world. It would mean having to link myself with them, acknowledging the inequalities of life as a black person and struggling against them everyday. It would mean holding my head up as a black woman and fighting against those stereotypes, it would mean embracing my ‘brothers and sisters’ – a term that will forever make my skin crawl. I did not want to and I still do not want to be that person who walks around with a chip on their shoulder, the person whose every second sentence is plagued with the words ‘because I’m black.’
So Deji, I get it. I wish we were living in a society, a world where you could walk into a room and be judged on your achievements alone and not the colour of your skin. I wish you did not have to fight against a stereotype or a preconception that existed long before you were born. I wish that because you see yourself, as you should, as a whole lot more than the colour of your skin that other people would too. But they don’t. And that is why Black History Month is important. It is about being unapologetically black. It is about owning your blacknesss, your history, understanding and accepting the struggles and the perseverance of those who came before you. It is about taking pride in yourself and your identity.
Black History month is not only a celebration of black people across the world and throughout history, Martin Luther King, Nina Simone, James Baldwin, the Williams sisters all of whom have changed the spaces in which people like me, like us exist. It is a chance to celebrate and legitimise our narratives and our histories. It is a chance to educate and to ask the difficult and sometimes painful questions.
Black History Month is recognising the shared oppression of black people across the world because whether we want to admit it or not, everyday is ‘White History.’
Denial is like a bubble. You are in your own little world and you can see everything but it’s a little bit blurred and everyone can see you, but you’re not touching anything. And then you pop that bubble and it is a little bit colder and it may be a little bit harder but you’re walking with people as opposed to floating above them and that is a much better way to enact change.
Happy Black History Month,