Last summer, the globe was rocked by a series of protests against the unfair, sometimes even criminal, treatment of the black community by police forces. Starting on May 25th, much of the United States was forced to confront our own policies and discrimination, and learn what Black Lives Matter means. For me, I saw Black Lives Matter, and now, Black History Month, as a celebration, and recognition of, the talent that the black community has brought to global culture, politics, and technology. I, a caucasian female who grew up in a predominantly white town, took a lot of this talent for granted, and rarely learned about it in school. For Black History Month, here are some ways to celebrate, and learn about, black culture, legacy, and tradition.
- Researching the Musical Roots of your Favorite Genre
If you know me, you know that I am obsessed with music. I am a student DJ, on the board of our campus radio station, and I listen to everything under the sun (and then some). In the summer of 2020, as I was exploring what the BLM movement meant to me, I stumbled upon a chart on the evolution of today’s music. While I had taken a course in high school on how black culture led to the development of rock and roll, and later rap and pop music, I found it interesting to see just how involved black culture is in much of today’s popular genres (according to the chart, only Opera and Baroque music have roots in solely white culture). As a part of figuring out what BLM means to us this month, spend some time researching and listening to black performers. With the popularity of Spotify and Apple Music, it has become easier to access and celebrate the secular, sacred, and instrumental traditions of the black community that brought modern society the likes of Ariana Grande and New Order.
- Shop at Local Black-Owned Businesses
While in the midst of figuring out what the Black Lives Matter movement meant last summer, a lot of what I read focused on supporting local black economies. I do not want to write too much here, because my fellow contributor Attie wrote an excellent article on local black-owned businesses to support, this website is a great source to purchase from or hire black-owned companies around the United States. Long story short, supporting black-owned companies is an excellent way to celebrate Black History month and support black creators year-round.
- Watch Films Featuring/By Black Storytellers
While it seems like Hollywood is full of stories and films that feature all-white ensembles, there are plenty of overlooked favorites and great stories that feature talented black actors or directors. For my horror fans out there, Jordan Peele’s film Get Out is a spooky jaunt through the relationship of an interracial couple, and it forces audiences to reckon with racism and overcoming differences. For those who are romantic drama fans, Moonlight, which won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 2017, stars Mahershala Ali as a young African-American man “grappling with his identity and sexuality while experiencing the everyday struggles of childhood, adolescence, and burgeoning adulthood” and is directed and produced by Barry Jenkins, who was nominated for Best Director in the same year. A particular favorite of mine, which also features Mahershala Ali, is Green Book, a film about an African-American classical pianist on a concert tour through the 1960s American South with an Italian driver and bodyguard. Green Book, like the two before it on this list, brings up the longstanding issue of overcoming differences and learning that, in the end, everybody is the same inside. It is also an excellent historical look at the American South during, and after, the 1964 Civil Rights Movement.
- Research Black Changemakers
One of my relatives is half-black, half-Puerto Rican, and throughout all of Black History month, she has been sharing a name on Facebook every day to research. Among these are Madam C.J. Walker, Angela Davis, Gordon Parks and Thurgood Marshall. Simply looking up, and/or doing a deep research of, prominent black historical figures is an excellent way to educate yourself. In addition, you can research famous court cases such as Brown vs. Board of Education and Loving v. Virginia, which are examples of the United States judiciary system stepping in to prevent issues of discrimination in the United States. It is super easy to find examples of black history throughout the year, but during Black History Month you should especially make it a priority.
Hopefully, this information can help everyone find ways to celebrate and honor Black History Month and help us to realize that the Black Lives Matter movement is about more than just a hashtag on a blacked-out square. Black history is American history.