Black History Year (Pt. 1)

Since its inception in 1976, Black History Month has been controversial. While it was intended to highlight the accomplishments of Blacks to society, detractors said it was racist to highlight one race to promote while others play the background. The ironic part being that much of the educational system promotes the accomplishments of Anglo-Saxons while everyone else is relegated to an abbreviated module. Others said that it’s insulting to try and condense the history of a people to one month.

Fast-forward 40 years. You have people asking if we really need a Black or Latino or Asian History Month. As evidenced by the current events, the answer is a resounding YES! A little more than 150 years after the three-fifths compromise was overturned, there are people arguing that Black and Brown people are still less than. They’re ignoring facts in order to appeal to a sense of superiority. Why else would a man get on national television and ask what non-whites have ever contributed to the world?

That’s why there is still a need. The fact that children everywhere are already taught that an entire people’s contributions can be boiled down to a month…and then re-teach them the same handpicked facts year after year until they no longer care is an issue. Black History Month (as taught by the American educational system) in a nutshell:

Y’all were savages, we brought you over here, gave you religion and a purpose. Slavery was bad. Y’all were freed. Then George Washington Carver created peanut butter and everything was right in the world!

Kids can’t connect with representation from over 100 years ago? What about the contributions of Blacks now? How much would it do for a young girl to know that it was because of a Katherine Johnson’s arithmetic computations that we were able to send men to the moon? Or to the little boy who loves video games that the Father of Modern Video Games was Black? Representation matters.

That’s why I think the relegation of contributions to society by Blacks to a month — the shortest month of the year at that, is antiquated. History doesn’t stop. It’s an everlasting creature. That’s why I think it’s important for us to embrace a Black History Year model. Shout accomplishments throughout the year and learn that any time is a good time to celebrate.

It can be hard enough to keep track of all that goes on within a year. With that in mind, I’ve taken the liberty of highlighting some of the blackest moments of 2016 so far.

Thanks to the listeners of the Brothers From Another podcast for their contributions and feedback.

Beyonce Opened The Flood Gates

When the most popular artist in the world drops new music, people tend to pay attention.

When Beyonce dropped “Formation,” the lyrics caught some people off guard.

My daddy Alabama, Momma Louisiana
You mix that negro with that Creole make a Texas bama
I like my baby heir with baby hair and afros
I like my negro nose with Jackson Five nostrils
Earned all this money but they never take the country out me
I got hot sauce in my bag, swag

Presidential candidates tried to adopt it to pander. Racists tried to claim it was racist. But all in all, white people had to come to grips with the fact that Beyonce was black and she was standing firm in her melanin. SNL did it right.

If the Formation Video wasn’t unapologetically black enough, the Super Bowl performance had to be. It wasn’t a coincidence that Bey’s performance called back to Michael Jackson AND the Black Panthers. It’s as if she was opening the floodgates.

Woke Ass Musicians

Before the show started, Kendrick had already won 3 awards. He didn’t have to make a statement. He was expected to perform and be out.

What he did do was use his platform to make a statement. In a room full of industry executives who oftentimes have the authority to get music released and what gets spun, what gets the major push and said:

You hate me don’t you?
You hate my people, your plan is to terminate my culture
You’re fuckin’ evil I want you to recognize that I’m a proud monkey
She’s already writing her angry letter…”I was told by AppleCare…”

Artists sending a message with their art is nothing new. Listen to Marvin’s What’s Going On or Ice Cube’s Death Certificate and you’ll hear topics eerily similar to things we’re seeing now. Kendrick has been making music that lies outside of the mainstream only because it doesn’t fit among the majority of what goes as popular. Turn on the radio for an hour. Songs produced by the same 5 producers with nothing resembling a message dominate airwaves. That’s on the community as much as it is the radio community.

Where’s the balance? Artists such as Blood Orange, Vic Mensa and even YG have made music that goes with the times, but you’ll have to hear those songs on Spotify.

We’ll touch on this later, but this consciousness isn’t unique to musicians…

Marvel Taps Into the Culture

Black nerds everywhere took notice when Marvel started to take it’s characters and mash them up with the covers of classic hip-hop albums. Whether it was outreach or appropriation, no one knew. But then 2016 happened.

It was announced that Ta-Nehesi Coates would be the scribe behind a new run of Black Panther. One of the preeminent voices on the Black Diaspora would be writing comic books. A mixture of intrigue and excitement caused this writer to pick up a copy on the day of release. Comic book shops everywhere completely ran out. A second printing had to be issued to match demand. Black Panther #1 — illustrated by Brian Stelfreeze is currently the best selling comic book of 2016.

A month later, fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe got a taste of what’s coming when Chadwick Boseman appeared as Black Panther in Captain America: Civil War.

Soon after the movie’s release, it was announced that in addition to Boseman, the Black Panther movie(2018) would also star Lupita N’yongo (12 Years a Slave, Queen of Katwe), Danai Gurira (The Walking Dead) and Michael B. Jordan (The Wire, Creed). The film will be directed by Ryan Coogler (Creed, Fruitvale Station)

The space as a comic book nerd can already be a lonely one. When you add race into the mix, the waters tend to get murkier. Characters of color are often sidekicks or background players. In recent times, some of these characters have made the jump to primetime. Sam Wilson, or The Falcon, was recently introduced as a new Captain America when the original’s super soldier serum wore off. Complaints were definitely lobbed, yet Marvel stayed the course. Characters like Kamala Khan, Miles Morales and Amadeus Cho have also been introduced as newer versions of heroes past. Hell, Marvel just introduced a new Iron Man who is modeled after Skai Jackson — yes, the Skai Jackson who ethered Azalea Banks. And the smartest person in the universe is NOT Tony Stark, Bruce Banner or Reed Richards. It’s Lunella Lafayette, or Moon Girl of “Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur”.

Do I even have to mention Luke Cage’s Netflix Series dropping soon?

SUUUUPER black.

Times are changing, and Marvel is betting that by embracing the changes in society, they’ll be around for longer. Juxtapose that with Hollywood continuing to make movies with all-white casts and then being shocked that they are flopping. No one wants to see that anymore! The studios who take chances will see the benefit long before the rest of the pack takes notice.

Shut up and take my money.

“Play Your Part”

After coming back from a 1–3 deficit (never done before) and bringing a championship back to Cleveland (hadn’t been done in 52 years), LeBron James was on top of the world. Yet he and his uber talented friends took the time (and risk) to begin the 2016 ESPYs (a sports wankfest, if you’re unaware) with a statement and a challenge to athletes to become more active in their communities and encourage rebuilding in communities where those athletes came from.

At a time where the previous week had seen at least three police involved shootings, the superstars spoke out about possible ways forward. These days, everyone has an opinion. For many public figures, the anonymity of the internet brings a lot of people their way to tell them how they were wrong about something. I get annoyed when one person tries to tell me something. I couldn’t imagine 1 million completely downplaying your right to voice your opinion and utilize your platform.

In addition to these 4 gentlemen, the ladies of the WNBA have been standing up for what they believe in. After donning “Black Lives Matter” shirts, players of the New York Liberty were fined. They stood behind their decision and refused to address the media on any other subject. Eventually the league corrected course. After public outcry and scrutiny caught up with them.

And then there’s Jesse Williams.

The actor received calls for his firing from Grey’s Anatomy after his acceptance speech for the Humanitarian Award at the BET Awards. He spoke with a poet’s prose as he built up Black women while tearing down white privilege. He called for athletes and celebs to use their voices for positive change just as easily as they do for advertisements. He simply spoke truth and was criticized for it. His detractors simply don’t try to hear the truth.

And there’s where the risk comes into mind. These athletes and celebs are in a ways hurting their own profitability by speaking out. In the business world, you’re seen as more of a fringe element when you’re politically vocal as everyone who doesn’t agree with you is seen as a lost sale. To some, this isn’t a cost worth trying to recoup. They don’t deserve our support.

But with influencers of all backgrounds not speaking openly about these things, it has the potential to get worse. As long as we throw a blind eye to it, others will as well. Hell, its gotten so bad that Michael Jordan actually spoke up.

We’re all going to have to wake up in order for this ship’s course to be corrected. We, like all people, should be proud of our ongoing accomplishments. The more we shout those out, it’ll drown out the false images that are already out there. You can’t ever let anyone dictate what your past was you give them power over your future.

This is just part of the story for one half of the year. What the rest of the year has in store, we can only find out. Each day the atmosphere is as volatile as when Mookie threw the trash can through Sal’s window. But with the election inching closer — and Black Twitter ready to comment the entire way through the end of the Obama Presidency — and art like Queen Sugar and The Birth of a Nation yet to drop, we could be talking about 2016 being the best case for a Black History Year for a while.