The Black History Month party that made me remember the fine art of silence
A co-worker of mine and I decided we would organize a Black History party. We’d quietly observed the company celebrating birthdays and St. Patrick’s Day and the Fourth of July in prior years. Considering I celebrate Juneteenth instead of the 4th of July — and have been doing so for years — I always wanted to do something for either the 29-day month or the day that the Union soldiers (led by Major General Gordon Granger) arrived in Galveston, Texas to confirm that the Civil War had ended and slaves were free. (Former President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1863 was not executed in many regions due to the small amount of Union Troops to enforce it.)
But our company had been bought out by another publishing company, and we all had to leave by April. That made June 19 (Juneteenth) out of the question, so we chose a day in February instead. I remember all the decorations in a conference room, the massive amount of food, the Black History T-shirts pinned to the wall and lots of emails about what to bring. Unfortunately, what I also remember was going into the kitchen to grab something from the fridge. A blonde, white lady walked by me and stopped to talk to her white male co-worker. She asked him, “Are you coming to the party today?” He responded, “I don’t celebrate that.” She laughed and said, “Me either, but the food is gonna be good.” I whipped my head around.
Before I could respond, another co-worker (white, male and the epitome of an ally) started talking over him to me. While I was trying to read the mouth of the non-celebrator telling his friend what his issue was, my motormouth ally not only stood his entire 6'2-body in my way but kept on talking. By the time he conveniently stopped talking, those two finished their conversation, too. I scowled, trying to piece together what I missed. Now whether my talkative ally overheard the initial conversation and knew how I’d respond could’ve been coincidental. In retrospect, it was probably for the best because I would’ve definitely debated both of them in that kitchen.
We had our party, and I paid attention to who came and who chose not to. I would guess out of the 200 or so of us that were still working on that floor, at least one-third popped their head in to hang out, donate or bring a dish. Interestingly, my boss’s boss birthday was that day, too, but I was unaware. There ended up being a second party hours later in another conference room. I took note of who came to both parties and was not even slightly surprised by duo attendees. My boss, a white blonde-haired woman who repeatedly proved herself to be an ally, brought a dish to both. She looked as comfortable sitting with a conference room full of black folks as she was with the white ones who only showed up to the second festivities.
After that party was over and the company continued its transition in the buyout, we all quietly parted ways a few weeks later. I kept in touch with all of my team who came to that Black History Month party for years. We chatted on social media and in-person, including me treating my boss out for lunch and smiling while reading a detailed book review from my motormouth colleague who purchased my first novel.
While white folks celebrating Black History Month parties is clearly not any major deal that economically helps black folks, the actual acknowledgment of our full history is a step in the right direction. The guy who said he doesn’t “celebrate that” showed me who he was in less than a minute. He also taught me another lesson — if you are too small-minded to acknowledge American history with all its ugly flaws, you are better off sitting this one out. No one missed him being there anyway, and I’d never seen him before in the two years I worked for that company.
Why Trump needs to follow the anti-celebrator’s cue
Every time American history makes one move forward, someone has to come forward to prove how clueless they are. Breonna’s Law goes into effect to outlaw no-knock warrants in Louisville in a 26–0 vote. Progress. The NFL commits $250 million over the next 10 years to fight systemic racism — without a public apology and re-hire to former quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Half-assed progress. Donald Trump returns to the 2020 campaign trail on June 19 in Tulsa, Oklahoma — the home of Black Wall Street — to give his rumored race speech. Absolute disgrace.
The 45th president, who won by electoral college and not the popular vote, has been one of the most divisive ones in history (if you exclude slave-owning presidents who made it to our currency). Identifying white hate groups as “very fine people” and accusing a 75-year-old peaceful protester of staging his own police brutality incident are just a couple of things to add to the list of hundreds. This is a man who has absolutely no business speaking on anti-racism. He’s got racism nailed down. He could get a gold star, a trophy and a certificate for being racist, but under absolutely no circumstances should he speak on anti-racism.
I’m not quite surprised that he’s using Juneteenth to campaign. Why would he not? He’s consistently made press conferences an opportunity to discuss gulping down poisonous cleaner to get rid of coronavirus. He’s managed to make soft-ball questions meant to uplift Americans who were terrified of being killed by the worldwide health outbreak turn into news rants. Never mind that approximately 7.3 million people worldwide have been infected and almost 418K have died. It’s the news’ fault! To put it simply, he’s not very bright.
But in the intelligence that he’s lacking, I cannot discredit his mastermind calculations to be disrespectful, offensive and repugnant. He chooses the absolute worst moments to be on the wrong side of history and smiles about it like he’s on ecstasy. Never have I ever appreciated the anti-celebrator at the Black History Party until now. I never understood why someone could be so against American history that he’d sit out a peaceful party paying homage to black folks’ contributions (and 400 years of forced labor). Now? I wish Trump would take a cue from the guy at that publishing job. If you cannot say something nice — because I can guarantee you that he won’t — just sit this historical celebration out. Let those who want to pay homage enjoy it in peace.
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