Notary by Jean-Michel Basquiat

One white man’s perspective on Black History Month

There are arguments for and against Black History Month. On one hand, we need a Black History Month because every month is White History Month. All history is written by those in power, and it’s important to have time to recognize the achievements of our citizens of color. On the other, shouldn’t the goal be to move beyond the need to have a month dedicated to Black History because our shared American history includes notability of all races? Does Black History Month block this path by giving the educational systems, media, and others excuses not to update our own understandings of how things really were (and still are, to a lesser but still severely troubling extent)?

What’s the solution? Maybe we should have a Black History Week every month. One that touches not just on the greatness of Black Americans, but also doesn’t whitewash (pun intended) the pain and suffering, distrust and judgment, and systemic inequality facing Black Americans throughout history, including today. One week a month where someone like me, a well-educated middle-class white man, can put on someone else’s shoes. Where I can at least attempt to understand what it’s like to be afraid of being pulled over even if I haven’t done anything wrong. Where I am scared of going on a run (not that I’ve actually moved faster than a brisk walk since I was a teen) for fear of the risk of being shot out of nothing more than bigotry, paraonia, and fear? Or, even seemingly more innocuous yet more ingrained and harmful, where my social circles result in me being a token, or a spokesperson for a diverse, multi-cultural race of human beings just because of the color of my skin?

I shouldn’t even be talking about this topic. I’m part of the problem. I don’t actively spread distrust and hatred, fear and bigotry, and if I see it, I say something. However, I also don’t actively campaign against it. You won’t see me at a protest or a march or a sit-in or a sit-out or anything else. I read, I share, I like, I comment, but social media activism, the patting-yourself-on-the-back version of making a difference, is the extent of my contribution to the racial conversation.

Maybe Black History Month is actually the perfect time to celebrate and remember Black History. You’ve had a month since January 1st, and you’ve already screwed up your New Year’s Resolutions. You’re feeling like a loser – that diet, that gym plan with those safe legal alternatives, your goal not to fucking swear anymore – down the drain.

Welcome to February 1st!

It’s time to make a real New Year’s Resolution. One that matters. A Black History Resolution, if you will. Repeat after me:

I, [insert privileged white person name here], resolve to think about how my perspective and the perspective of someone of color might be completely different even if I’m standing right next to him or her;

I resolve to realize that empathy is important but it will never give me the ability to truly understand what it’s like to be Black;

I resolve to understand that maybe, just maybe, I have it easier for the simple reason that my skin is white, and that I should keep that in mind before I speak or act in an insensitive way;

I resolve to reconsider things that I may have previously considered “harmless” or “funny because my friends are Black” and understand that they perpetuate an acceptance of an extremely harmful mindset;

I resolve to stop saying “It’s okay to say it as long as you don’t say it with a hard ‘r’ at the end”;

I resolve to take the time to expand my universe to include black authors, directors, artists, and other creators because I know there’s no better way to look through someone’s eyes than by appreciating their works;

I resolve never to refer to someone of color as “articulate”;

I resolve not to ask any of my Black friends to be a token representative of their race;

I resolve not to use singular examples of powerful Black figures to argue that racism and bigotry no longer exist because I understand that the exceptions do not make the rule;

I resolve to avoid saying that I don’t see color because I know that’s a nonsense phrase that only diminishes the color of someone’s skin;

I resolve to avoid being defensive when talking about racism because I understand that not actively being racist doesn’t eliminate the problem;

I resolve not to try to relate to a friend’s story about experiencing racism by saying that I couldn’t get a cab one time or that I got looked at strangely once because I understand now that those are not the same things in any way;

I resolve not to appropriate Black culture but rather, to appreciate it;

I resolve to understand that “Black Lives Matter” doesn’t mean that other lives don’t but instead is an anthem and a voice I should stand behind; and

I resolve to do a lot better with my Black History Resolutions than I did with my New Year’s Resolutions. Fuck that diet anyway.

Who’s with me?

This is part of a series in which I will attempt to write something every single day of 2016. Will I be able to do it? You’ll only know if you subscribe using the form below!

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