Black History Month and the Lies We Tell

It’s Black History Month here in the US, that time of year where we supposedly honor the contributions of Black Americans to this great nation of ours by giving Black folks their very own special month… all 28 days. Oh, Black History Month is a glorious time, where we lift up the acceptable and safe Black folks such as Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and where we get to feel good and pat ourselves on the back because Black folks can now sit in the front of the bus, drink from any water fountain and now they can even become president. It’s a glorious time I tell you…not.

I know that this post is going to piss a few people off and that is okay, I will probably lose a few readers and that is okay too. Life is too short for me to be anything but honest and intentional in all that I do.

The sad sack reality is that most Americans are no more vested or interested in Black Americans than they were fifty or sixty years ago, it’s just that it is no longer socially acceptable to say that. Instead we pretend to care and value everyone but our actions speak louder than our words, sure we might have a Black friend or two. Hell, if we live in a large, diverse, urban area we might even have more than two Black friends, shit we might even date or marry Black people. Imagine that! However for the vast majority of White Americans at the end of the day they live and love in communities of people that look just like them. I say that with no judgment because frankly it cuts both ways, my hometown despite being the 3rd largest city in the United States and the 88th largest city in the world is an extremely segregated place. Sure, in the downtown and near north side lakefront communities you will see a diverse array of people but overall blacks live with blacks, whites’ lives with whites, etc.

Which brings me to my point, in my hometown last year, 440+ school aged children were shot, 60+ were killed. A few names like that of Heaven Sutton, a seven year old girl who was shot and killed outside of her house while standing with her mother where they were  selling snacks; made the national news, most dead brown kids are simply a footnote.  Think about that for a moment, a little kid outside her house selling snacks with her mother is shot and killed. Heaven’s story made the national spotlight but most of the 60+ kids killed in 2012 in Chicago weren’t deemed important enough for their stories to be shared far and wide. Just another day in Black America, where violence has reached epic proportions and kids no longer dream of growing up to become a teacher or an astronaut, they dream that they simply live long enough to grow up.

A few days ago, a young lady with a promising future, Hadiya Pendleton’s life was cut short by a bullet. However Hadiya’s story is making the news because you see, just a week before her life was cut short, she had performed at President’s Obama inauguration. Hadiya’s life ended just a mile away from Obama’s home in Chicago. Hadiya got caught in the rain and took cover under a canopy and a gunman started shooting. Truly a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, but for hundreds of black and brown kids in Chicago, they are caught in the wrong place at the wrong time all the time; as public streets and parks, places which should be safe, are no longer safe spaces. Yet while some grumble and complain, it’s business as usual where if you have the means you move your family to a safer place and if you don’t have the means, you live on your knees praying and hoping that your kids come home every day and that you don’t receive a call or knock at the door. This violence has been going on for years, it didn’t used to be like that but I am convinced as the divide widens between the have and the have-nots life is not valued.

On the flip side, late last year when 26 precious souls lost their lives to gun violence in Newtown, CT it captured the nation’s attention. Discussions started, a task force was formed and for once a real dialogue about gun violence in this country was launched. It’s too early to see where these actions will go but the point is people want change. The mass shootings have reached a point of no return and even some people who are very comfortable with the second Amendment are willing to admit, maybe, just maybe we need to see what we can do so that little kids aren’t being slaughtered in the one place they should be safe…school.

From my perch, I hate to state the obvious, but I will. See, the souls lost in the Sandy Hook tragedy were primarily white and of comfortable means. In America, schools and streets must be safe for white middle class kids, sadly though that same concern often is not extended to black and brown kids (or financially vulnerable whites either). Maybe it’s because no matter what we tell ourselves at the end of the day, we just aren’t as vested in people who are not like us and therefore we can’t feel for them on the same level. It might be the same reason that it took weeks for news of the death of Trayvon Martin to capture the nation’s attention and that is only because black and brown activists refused to let Trayvon’s story go untold because as mother’s and father’s we all knew our boys could be the next Trayvon.

As we enter Black History Month I find myself wondering what point is there in glorifying dead great Black Americans when at the end of the day, Black life is simply not valued or equal to white life. No matter how many times we tell ourselves that things are equal, our words are cheap because our actions as a collective whole tell a different story.