I've never really cared for Black History Month. I like to take the Morgan Freeman approach to these particular issues. Black history is American history and American history is black history. Those things said, the powers that be insist upon placing particular focus on this month for the celebration of all things black and historical. So I shall acquiesce. Throughout my youth, this month was the time when all of my grade school teachers would dust off the posters of Harriet Tubman, Duke Ellington and Frederick Douglass (shout out to my second grade teacher for engraining those three figures in my memory). I always enjoyed that time.
As endearing as those memories are, my black history month cannot and will not be limited to one month. My blackness--a term that I've always found to be devoid of substantive meaning--it seems is under siege. The authorities on blackness have conspired and voted. I lost. Apparently, there are specific rules that govern my ability to be a strong and assured black member of society. There are words that I can and cannot say. There are places where I can and cannot go. There are beliefs that I can and cannot have. I, for one, am over it. Who died and made the ever-omnipresent "them" the arbiters of my existence?
Every day I greet the sun, and it's black history. Through each passing day, my blackness undergoes any plethora of challenges. At every turn, I have to prove some modicum or aspect of how black I am to some chosen authority. I no longer have patience for it. I didn't have patience for it in elementary school, when I was accosted for acting white--whatever the hell that means. I didn't have patience for it in high school when I was chided for not having enough black friends. I didn't have patience for it in college when various individuals--administrators included--criticized me for not having an organic or legitimate "black experience" while enrolled. (Side note: Still trying to decipher what a legitimate black experience is. Those with answers, please tweet at me). I don't have patience for it now.
I am black. I love being black. I am not ashamed of the storied history that contributes to who I am and connects me to my past. Those things are carried with me everywhere I go. It is who I am. It will forever be who I am. It will be a part of who my children are. My skin color weaves a colorful tale of intrigue and beauty. Of tragedy and sacrifice. Of patience and love. Of perseverance and affirmation. Yet, it is but one aspect of who I am. I don't have to highlight it or accentuate it. With each new day that I'm fortunate enough to experience, I am black enough. I woke up like this.
When we police the identities of minorities, we limit the awesome power that is intrinsic within being a minority. Our pasts--intertwined with the sordid yet powerful history of this nation--are unmistakable and unforgettable. Our futures are unlimited and unparalleled. The key is to let each individual take their own personal agency and run with it. This is how any people flourish--when they are empowered to do so, not limited to a litmus test of authenticity.
I am advocating a call to arms. We cannot fear the collective loss of "what it means to be black in America." That fear alone will stifle any progress that is yet to be made. What if Dr. King had adhered to a severe code of what it meant to be black? What if he hadn't transcended the pervasive fear held by black people at the time and avoided taking the reins of history--transforming a nation while doing so? What about Hattie McDaniel? Or Julian Bond? Or Shirley Chisolm? Or Benjamin Banneker? Or Josephine Baker? Or Mary McLeod Bethune? Or Doug Wilder? Or Condoleezza Rice? Or Oprah? Or that one guy who presently occupies The White House? Each successive generation gets to have its creative dance with our people's history and carry the banner forward in hopes of one day experiencing a more perfect union.
My wish is for each identity--black, white, gay, straight, learned or not, rich or poor and all the ones in between--to eschew any commitment to a set of rules governing what it means to be an individual. Why box yourself? Let me be clear. I believe it abundantly imperative to learn about all the different pieces that make us who we are. Commune with them. Command dominion over each aspect of your person with a dexterity that surpasses understanding. This is how humanity survives and marches on. There is great power in letting each person find their respective light. Langston Hughes said "O, let my land be a land where Liberty Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath, But opportunity is real, and life is free, Equality is in the air we breathe." Here is the key. We are on the same path toward the same end goal: A nation of people with different stories converging to seek out an inimitable truth--freedom. Freedom sees no race. No color. No affiliation. No limitation. No futile maxim that man can spit out. It sees your heart and your soul. Nothing more. Nothing less.
So yes. I am black enough. You are white enough. He is gay enough. She is woman enough. They are DEFINITELY straight enough. Bullying ourselves into submission to a staid and stale identity preconception is so passé. The only rule that we should subject ourselves to is the one where we strive to not be terrible toward one another. We--as a human species--can never EVER be too present and engaged for our fellow compatriots. More of that. That other stuff is for the birds.