Do you sometimes wonder why there needs to be an entire month dedicated to the history of one racial group?
I did- during my first few years in North America; I wondered if perhaps the Civil Rights movement had asked for too much in pushing for an entire month, albeit the shortest month of the year, to be attached to black people.
You see as someone from the motherland, my history was never in doubt. Passed down orally from one generation to the next (with embellishments along the way depending on the tale spinning skills at work), we all had a rough idea of where we came from. I have drunks and medicine men on my dad’s side and great leaders and extreme polygamists on my mum’s side. My family name on my dad’s side is quite colourful, owing to a great grandfather who ran the town. My sister’s name is so specific to our family that anytime we meet someone with that name, we are more than assured they are our kin. At any given time, we could be sure of at least 3-4 generations before us (see the caveat above on the downside to oral history) but the bottom line is that it continuous with no breakages.
We didn’t study the history of slavery back in the motherland and truth be told even colonialism was presented to us in the most sanitized fashion. However, after educating myself courtesy of living in North America, I learnt that when the slaves landed in the shores of North America, which for argument’s sake we will say was in 1619 Jamestown in present day Virginia, their history was essentially erased. They were assigned the names of their owners but none of the privileges. Someone previously named Makende now became Johnson; like a river whose straight-line course was forever diverted by use of a boulder or invisible river traffic cop. The separation of families by the traders created a new mishmash of families, who were not bound by blood and sometimes not even by language.
Fast forward to 1970 in the US and 1995 in Canada when people from the African diaspora first began to reclaim or more to the point, recreate their history 351 and 376 years later respectively. Granted oral history would not have provided a very smooth account of those years, it would have been nice for them to know that their lineage had been continuous throughout that time. Colonisers did try to divide and conquer Africans on their land and my mom told us of being forced into rows of homes, set as camps to keep everyone in and track the troublemakers who were living in the forests out and easier to “hunt” down. However even in these camps, cramped together into single rooms as they were, they continued their family lives and with it their stories. My North American cousins weren’t that lucky, especially because along the way, house slaves were given to birthing their masters’ offspring, hence complicating the lineage that much more.
A month doesn’t undo this; after all even DNA studies go only so far in bridging the missing links of their history. But if done well, it allows the black diaspora some time in the year to make a deliberate effort to research and learn their collective history and whatever individual history one can trace. It’s as important to do so as it is for the First Nations who suffered similar fate, in the form of extreme colonization on their own lands.
We can’t right any of these wrongs; we can’t even re-write the history but if only once in a year, we can acknowledge that Africans were brought into these lands against their wills and had histories that may not have been perfect but existed and perhaps, just perhaps, the future generations of black disaporans (sp) can move forward with a strong sense of a valid and legitimate past. After all, we are who we were!