The Big Girl Chronicles: Black History Month Tribute
“Deal with yourself as an individual worthy of respect and make everyone else deal with you the same way.” -Nikki Giovanni, poet *
This quotation borrowed from African American noteworthy poet and activist Nikki Giovanni was what I felt the most appropriate introduction to our national reflection and celebration of our heritage. It challenges us to examine ourselves first; our behavior, attitudes and thoughts. Only after we have done this can we then demand that others treat us in a respectable manner. So as we begin, there are some points of reflection that will clue us in to whether or not we are preserving our heritage with dignity, or making a mockery of all that our ancestors fought to extend to us.
Behavior – Am I an asset or liability?
Being of African American ancestry is more than just the color of your skin. True enough, that’s all that is necessary to put you in the correct category for the census, but if you want rights to the culture you have to be willing to do just as much to earn your space. So ask yourself: Am I an asset to my race? My culture? My heritage? Would those who fought and died on the principle that I have every right to coexist among any race or culture on equal terms look at you and smile? Or agonize at how you’ve belittled their efforts? You certainly don’t have to consider my opinion. You can assess for yourself. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be some gigantic effort. Consider how you’re raising your family? Are you teaching your children about their ancestry? Are you emphasizing the importance of education? Suffrage? Are you taking time during the month set aside specifically to reflect upon our heritage to plan activities at home? I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this. If you are capable of doing more, why not become actively involved in local chapters of community action organizations? Or begin one if there are none in your area? Support organizations that share in the interests of our people. Get involved and take an active role in bringing the overall vision of our existence in America into fruition.
Attitudes- How do I feel about who I am and others that look like I do?
There has been much discussion about how African Americans are portrayed in the media. Now more than ever before, we have to meet the challenge of not letting what we see define who we are. To do this it is imperative that we create positive images of ourselves in all capacities to frame the thinking of our children, how they feel about themselves and how they’re represented in the world around them. It can be an unnecessary and avoidable barrier to meeting that goal if we aren’t careful about what our children are watching and listening to. One example is rap music. I’m by no means downing the hiphop/rap genre. I’m a huge fan. But what is important to realize is that rap music is intended for mature listeners. “Mature” implies responsibility and some ability to differentiate between reality and fiction. Therefore, you could want to consider not exposing young, impressionable children to lyrics about black people and young ladies in particular that will send messages that it’s a positive goal to become like those described in the lyrics. Instead try doing just the opposite. Listen to and expose your children to media that show desirable attributes and characteristics that would be more appreciative among African American culture. Model behavior that will positively influence our youth.
Thoughts – What do I think about myself and others of the same race?
Forming a healthy outlook of ourselves, our race and our heritage is essentially one of the founding principles of Black History Month. In sharing our struggles and history, we agree about who we are and what our contributions to mankind have been. Sharing also helps cultivate a like-mindedness needed for direction. What do we envision for ourselves as a group of people? Having an overall unhealthy mindset about yourself and race naturally impinges on your ability to make helpful contributions. In some cases, it can be harmful and divisive. To guard against this, it could be a good idea to focus on the positives that you have to offer, and areas where you feel our race has made notable progress. Listen to, initiate and participate in discussions about our race with those who have made positive efforts to further our interests and represent us well. Take an interest in what’s being taught about our race. Challenge unhealthy thoughts and undesirable images.
The right to be treated as an individual worthy of respect begins with each choice we make. Sure we’ve made some mistakes. That doesn’t mean that you have to continue to be haunted by your mistake. Begin making improvements now that generations to come can reflect and build upon.
*The thoughts expressed in this post were inspired by the quotation noted above. However, Ms. Giovanni should in no way be held responsible for the contents of this post.