Black History Month is already off to a great start.
Associate Justice Stephen Breyer announced his plan to retire last month, giving President Joe Biden an opportunity to fulfill a campaign promise by nominating a Black woman to the Supreme Court.
Naturally, the GOP is “offended” that the president has the audacity to make Black history.
“The fact that he’s willing to make a promise at the outset, that it must be a Black woman, I gotta say that’s offensive,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said on his podcast. “‘If you’re a white guy, tough luck. If you’re a white woman, tough luck. You don’t qualify.’”
Nevermind the fact that Cruz would not be bemoaning any possible offense to Black women if the nominee was yet another white person.
But in 50 years, if Black History Month still exists, the same type of people will be quoting Biden’s first Black woman Supreme Court nominee, I guarantee it. And that’s the cycle we must put to an end. Teach Black history. But end the whitewashed fanfare once and for all.
Black History Month is increasingly being co-opted by the people who have yet to trade in their whistles for bullhorns. It has been commercialized, whitewashed and hijacked — so let’s put an end to this version of it.
If, as Dr. Cornel West coined it, Martin Luther King Jr. has been “Santa Claus-ified,” then Black History Month has become Christmas. Stripped down and swallowed up by the machinery of capitalism, only to be spit back out as an appropriated, commercialized husk of the original.
“Teach Black history. But end the whitewashed fanfare once and for all.”
Don’t get me wrong. Actual Black history is more important than ever, but the way it’s been commodified has turned it into a veil for racist right-wingers and clueless whites to pontificate about Blackness in a way that does more harm than good.
Every February, they can regurgitate the same whitewashed stories of Black people, and in turn, it’s easier to spend the other 11 months being racist and excusing it with the fact that they “honor” Rosa Parks once a year.
Take a look at where the country is right now. Do we need to hear about Black history from the people who brought us the critical race theory moral panic?
After George Floyd was murdered in 2020, there was a surge of what I like to call “racial awareness.” White people I haven’t spoken to since 2007 were suddenly DMing me on Instagram to “check in.” (I still haven’t figured out what they were checking in on. My Blackness? It’s doing great; thanks for asking!)
Every industry pledged to work on its diversity and inclusion; mayors of major cities painted “Black Lives Matter” on their streets, and who can forget the iconic tweet “Gushers wouldn’t be Gushers without the Black community and your voices”?
It wasn’t long before it was a little bit too much racial awareness, and the backlash began. Several states introduced new laws to further criminalize protesters. Support for Black Lives Matter plummeted. And white parents were throwing tantrums over critical race theory, an academic theory they swore was teaching children to be racist against whites.
In a surprise to no one, their faux outrage has revitalized a whole movement. Teaching about the civil rights movement or mentioning the United States’ racist beginnings are controversial. Books by marginalized authors are being banned across the country. And there have always been people in denial about what this country really is.
I have a very vivid memory of my eighth-grade civics teacher telling the class that slavery wasn’t that bad because white slaveowners worked right alongside the people they had stolen from the African continent. I went to a private evangelical Christian school in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., and while that certainly wasn’t the worst thing that happened to me or my classmates there, there’s a reason why that memory remains so clear 20 years after the fact.
And if you need to see an indicator of what Black History Month 2022 will be this year, look no further than this year’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day observance, where the same people who were crowing about how it’s offensive to say the legacy of slavery still carries on today were posting the only MLK quote they knew.
Elected officials like Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, who has been one of the leading voices on the anti-critical race theory front, tweeted out this empty platitude on the holiday.
How can Abbott decry critical race theory and yet feel bold enough to post about MLK every January? It’s the same as saying, “I can’t be racist, I have a Black friend,” but instead of a “Black friend,” it’s “I know who Sojourner Truth is, so give me a get-out-of-being-racist-free pass, please!”
Black History Month will be like 28 MLK Days in a row. And if we can’t stop people from creating dehumanizing and racist policies, we should at least put an end to their mocking of history every February.