Bringing American Histories to Life

Jamala Rogers

The Naked

by Jamala Rogers

Every year, I hear someone of African descent bash Black History Month — opining that our history should not be relegated to the shortest month of the year. I do not share that opinion because it was a Black man (Carter G. Woodson) who chose the month of February to celebrate the accomplishments of Black folks. BHM is no longer a superficial celebration of athletes, entertainers and inventors. The month has become an explosion of ideas, events, struggles and tragedies that have shaped our existence in a hostile land and touched every aspect of American life.

I look forward to February and March to see what new things I canlearn about my people and about women. I have not been disappointed. The overlaps of what Black women have done is empowering and inspiring.

I always anticipate what smorgasbord the Public Broadcasting Service will dish up during those two glorious months. Like Eyes on the Prize and The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross. On a regular basis, the internet is filled with untold stories and hidden facts about Black folks but in February, it goes buck wild.

The preservationists and protectors of Black history always do their magic. To get to the truth — the Black truth — they have to bust through the high wall of racist lies and stereotypes that have long propped up white supremacy.

How else would we know that Clarence Avant was the one who derailed Dick Clark’s scheme to bury the popular Train Soul. How else would we know that before there was Rosa Parks refusing to ride in the back of the bus, there was Claudette Colvin. How else would we know that it was Ann Lowe, a Black fashion designer, who created the wedding dress of Jackie Kennedy. Or that when Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated on Maya Angelou’s birthday, she stopped celebrating for 30 years and instead sent flowers to Coretta King until the widow’s death.

There’s also deepening of events and people that we already know. Documentaries like Slavery by Another Name, The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution, I Am Not Your Negro, A Ballerina’s Tale, LA 92, Whose Streets, The Life and Death of Marsha P Johnson, What Happened, Miss Simone?, Baltimore Rising, The Rape of Recy Taylor, Freedom Summer, Who Really Killed Sam Cooke?

The history of Black folks is not the only victims of unsung and distorted truths in this country. There’s the histories of Native Americans, Chicanos, Asians, LGBTQAI, women and others who also are pushing to correct and project their respective narratives.

With the recent racist and sexist attacks on the Atlanta spas, the nation is getting glimpses of how Asian Pacific Islanders have been discriminated against, stereotyped, marginalized and looked on as foreigners regardless of their U.S. birthright. Some people are just finding out that Japanese families were forced to leave their homes and businesses to be placed in concentrations camps during World War II as a matter of so-called national security. Sadly, six Asian women being murdered by a white dude having a bad day has opened up the opportunity for Asian Americans to share their painful, but subdued existence in America.

The big book of American history is many stories of many peoples over many years. Right now, those stories are still separate and excluded from this country’s history written and told from the lens of white historians and policy makers.

We need to make time to learn about the “other” because when that happens, we’ll find out the majority of us have been cast as the other. Fear of the other has kept us in our silos and not embracing the fact that our histories are more similar than different. Black history is American history.