Black history, black excellence

Posted on 05 Feb 2016 at 7:50am

Make change happen instead of being a line-item on someone else’s agenda

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Jalenzki BrownSo. It is Black History Month, right? Do you care? Should I care? There is constant debate among white people — and even black people — about the need for a Black History Month. As someone who studies the lives of black people and works to unite the race, to me every day is a matter of Black History — living in it and reflecting on it.

But before I continue, let me give this disclaimer: I’m not a big fan of labels — i.e. black, white, gay, straight, top, bottom, masculine, feminine, etc. And before y’all go jumping down my throat uninvited — as y’all did to Raven-Symone when she denounced being African-American — please understand that my dislike for labels has nothing to do with being ashamed of being black or white or gay or straight or top or bottom or masculine or feminine or … . You get the idea.

The truth is, no one label can sum up the totality of a person’s human experience. But labels can provide a point of reference and insight into someone’s reality.

People often find themselves at the intersection of many labels, which can be conflicting. I believe labels give rise to the division which fuels conquest. In other words, one group is always going to think that their agenda and way of life is better or of greater importance than the next.

Additionally, labels are social constructs. “Black” and “white” were created by America as a result of the Atlantic slave trade and slavery. Europeans brought Africans — from all over the continent, by the way — to the Americas, and thus the Africans became the black race and the Europeans became the white race.

Let us remember that black and white people alike were often left in the dark about the great achievements and excellence of black people. Black history hasn’t always been taught and included in American history classes in our educational system.

It wasn’t until the efforts of Carter G. Woodson, in the early 1900s, and the birth of Negro History Week that the larger society in America began discussing black history.

Even today, black history is often taught as an elective or a month’s worth of curriculum, while white history is generally considered “American history.”

Growing up, I don’t recall Black History Month being a big deal at home, because my family frequently discussed our history. And I was always right there, soaking in all the wisdom of my elders.

I do, however, remember Black History Month and the limited lessons of black excellence we received in school. It started with slavery and ended with Martin Luther King Jr.

As someone who is at the intersection of black and gay, I would’ve liked to have heard about what those like me contributed to society. Seeing yourself and others like you reflected positively has a positive impact on self worth, and how others place value on your life.

Black Gay History is Black History, too, right?

I was so happy to see Jada Pinkett-Smith release a video on Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday, looking like an African goddess radiating in the sun, boycotting the Oscars for the lack of diversity among the nominees and standing firm on what she believes.

And I really loved and enjoyed Snoop Dogg’s response to the matter at hand. He gave me all the life I needed.

But if you think Jada’s video was merely about the Oscars, I think you’re missing the whole point.

In her video, she asks the following questions:

“Is it time that people of color recognize how much power, influence that we have amassed that we no longer need to ask to be invited anywhere? … Have we now come to a new time and place where we recognize that we can no longer beg for love, acknowledgment or respect [from] any group?”

She goes on to say that true power lies in our ability to love, respect and acknowledge ourselves the way in which we ask others to do so. I’ve always told people that I love me enough for all of us. When you cultivate self-love, there is less of a need to receive love from others.

“It is our responsibility now to make the change. Maybe it is time we pull back our resources and we put them back into our communities, into our programs, and we make programs for ourselves that acknowledge us in ways we see fit,” Jada added.

(In case you missed Jada Pinkett-Smith’s and Snoop Dogg’s videos, find the nearest portal to YouTube and check them out.)

I think Jada’s wisdom can be applied to many areas of life and positively impact how we work, live and play. We need more people with big platforms to bring awareness to issues of inclusion and diversity.

My good buddy Ray Jordan, who is working on a doctorate in public policy and social change, with an emphasis in Martin Luther King Jr. studies, recently led an awesome discussion on the legacy of MLK Jr. and the Civil Rights movement, hosted by United Black Ellument’s B.L.A.C.K. Chat series (B.L.A.C.K. is an acronym for Building Leaders and Cultivating Knowledge).

Ray believes that the black experience has created arguably some of the strongest people on the planet, merely by the mechanism of survival of the fittest. This statement definitely holds true when you consider all that black people have had to endure and continuously deal with: slavery, Jim Crow, the new Jim

Crow, police brutality, emotional distress — and the list goes on.

There aren’t any weak Americans of African descent left!

With that being said, I’m definitely proud to claim the black experience (too bad I can’t say the same for Raven). And I’m so grateful that we now live in an age of information and connectivity, because seeking new truths is not as hard as it once was.

Let’s all reflect on how far we’ve come as humans — individually and collectively — and build on the strengths of our ancestors. Don’t be afraid to push past mediocrity by striving for better.

If there is a need for something in society, gather the resources needed and create it, even if doing so means no longer being a line item on someone else’s agenda.

It is my hope that one day we can live in a society where labels matter less and living is about the human experience and growth of all people. The world is much bigger than any one person or racial groups.

Regardless of how you group or regroup people, construct or deconstruct society, we’re all interconnected.

Jalenzski Brown seeks to find peace, love and happiness in every moment of his human experience and help those around him do the same.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 5, 2016.

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