Because life in America prioritizes material productivity over spiritual development, consciousness of fundamental human elements such as cultural identity are compartmentalized into specific “holidays” or periods of observance. February is the period allotted for the consciousness of Black history. For Baltimore, as for most cities with a predominantly African American population, February’s 28 days mark the only period of the year when it is acceptable for Black people to focus solely and exclusively on the Black experience and for non-Blacks to focus on it at all. The shortest and coldest month of the year is the only period not yet diluted by the watery concept of “multiculturalism.”
Yes, harsh words. Yes, bitter energy. Yes, thoughts and feelings seemingly incongruent with the “mauve-toned sweetness of spirituality.” But only one who has studied the whole of African and African American history from its majestic classical history in dynastic Egypt to the beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles can understand the soil in which these thoughts and feelings are rooted.
It is impossible to achieve even a cursory understanding of this history without developing and confronting these harsh thoughts and bitter feelings. It is also impossible to confront these thoughts and feelings without being launched into the arduous psycho-spiritual task of somehow reconciling them so that it is possible to rise each morning and move through life in this country. The balance has been to proffer the upbeat version of Black history, focusing exclusively on its triumphs and achievements. However, this sweet chocolate milk version of the past cannot be digested...it cannot nourish the Black cultural body because it is being offered to a people psychologically conditioned to disbelieve in their own inherent greatness.
The refusal to embrace the pain and struggle that is the whole of Black history is the single greatest obstacle to the ascension of Black people. It is the hard work, the stunning shock, the abject disbelief, the reluctant acceptance, the excruciating internalization, the infernal rage, and the miraculous reconciliation of the past and present that is feared and resisted by melaninated Americans. It is the prospect of searing spiritual and emotional pain that makes Black people the only cultural group that consciously resists embracing its own history.
This devastating journey is the reason why Black great grandmothers could not speak of their lives as slaves, why Black grandmothers could not speak of their lives under Jim Crow – they wanted to spare their children’s children the psycho-emotional agony that had enveloped their own lives. But subsequent generations have not been spared…the conscious rejection of the pain of Black history does not prevent the subconscious experience of that pain, and it is the subconscious experience of that past pain that manifests itself as present self-destruction.
The status of African Americans on the lowest rung of every socio-economic, physical and mental ladder of measurement is a direct result of the subconscious awareness of this pain absent the conscious knowledge and understanding of its root causes. Black people simply do not love themselves. They do not love themselves because they do not know themselves. They do not know what they have had and what they have now. They only know what they don’t have.
What they do know is that they are a homeless people…that they have rejected Africa and that America is not their home. A people in their own home do not require legislation to access and exercise their basic human rights. What they do know is that they are still considered sub-human…the unanswered disparities in the quality of life, the unpunished murder of Black men and the unjust mass incarceration of Black youth herald America’s continued perception of Black people as savages and slaves. What they do know is that the barriers to individual and collective actualization, while surmountable thanks to the sacrifices of recent history, are still very real and still very formidable, and that they are reinvented and reinforced at every given opportunity.
So the choice becomes whether Black people will continue to suffer subconsciously from the pain of Black history or will begin to struggle consciously from the knowledge and understanding of that history. That is the fundamental human element compartmentalized under the banner of Black History Month: the choice between suffering and struggle. This choice is more a spiritual one than a cultural one. The call to know and embrace and love one’s self is a call that comes from hearing the voice of one’s own soul.
This is a clarion call for every Black person in Baltimore to listen to that voice. Because it is impossible for the choice between suffering and struggle to be made without the information upon which that choice is to be based, this is a call for Baltimore’s Black residents to vigorously consume genuine Black history -- all of it. This is a call to bypass the fried chicken for a free lecture, to replace that Beyonce cd with a book cd, to listen to the stories of an elder instead of the stories of CSI. This is a clarion call for Black people in Baltimore to embrace the history in which your cultural identity will find its spiritual salvation, the cure for your cultural amnesia and the solutions to your culture-based adversities.
Do this quickly and with determination, Baltimoreans. You only have 28 days.
Know Eraka: www.peacefulpower.org
Contact Eraka: firstname.lastname@example.org