Why Black History Month is important to me as an African Immigrant.
Since 1976, Black history month has been celebrated in February as a way to honour the triumphs and struggles of African Americans while also raising awareness on what it means to be black in society. Black history month is not limited to America; countries like Canada and Germany also have their designated Black history months. The contribution of Black people to civilization cannot be denied and must be celebrated to educate those who are otherwise oblivious.
As a Nigerian immigrant who lived in other African countries outside of Nigeria, I had great expectations of moving to the US and was really excited to experience the African American culture. I was fortunate to arrive during black history month and got exposed to a lot of material celebrating black history. These materials not only shed light on the unconscious biases that I had formed about African Americans based on information I had been fed by Hollywood movies over decades but also allowed me to reorient myself and fully appreciate what it means for an African American to celebrate black success.
When I started the journey of really learning about African American history, one of the first documentaries I watched was the Netflix documentary titled 13th. Which delved into the 13th Amendment of the constitution in 1865, how it led to the incarceration of many African Americans and how it evolved into the criminal justice system as we know it. It also connects the dots for me on how it impacts the African American family as single unit, the redlining of certain districts and the under-funding of African American communities.
It’s easy to make assumptions about certain things one doesn’t understand or hasn’t experienced which is why I initially didn’t understand why having an all-black cast of Black Panther was celebrated as Black excellence until I read the story about Sidney Poitier, the challenges he faced and how he paved the way for other African Americans in Hollywood.
In 2019, I took my family to the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington DC. Being in there and seeing physical evidence of what Black people experienced and challenges they overcame through the years overwhelmed me. I may have shed a tear or two. The impact of women like Rosa Parks, Katherine Johnson and Harriet Tubman in portraying black excellence and strength even during the times they live cannot be overstated.
Until recently, African Americans and African American culture were portrayed by villainy, gangsterism and weakness (Remember how the New Orleans voodoo festival was portrayed in a James Bond movie). There are also multiple tired tropes that are used to portray African Americans in movies such as “the strong black woman”, “angry black woman” or “the black man always looking for trouble”. These tropes are scales that need to fall off the eyes of every individual including African Immigrants to fully appreciate the journey of African Americans.
As I continue to learn about the history and the journey of African Americans, I have come to appreciate the magnitude of each African Americans’ success; what each milestone achieved means and also recognize the long road ahead to equality and racial justice. This allows me to have the right mindset as an ally and to take meaningful steps in solidarity with the African American community. I encourage every immigrant and even Africans back home to walk this path with me during this black history month. This year, the theme is Black health and wellness to acknowledge the work done by black health practitioners. This includes alternative medicine and other rituals, activities and initiatives that Black people have indulged in to maintain healthiness over the years. It’s easy to underplay how these things contribute to your present standing and it’s why Black history month is important.
I have compiled a list of books and documentaries that helped kick-start my learning process that I think would be useful to anyone on this path:
1. The 1619 project: A New Origin Story. — Nikole Hannah-Jones
2. Race, Reform and Rebellion: The second reconstruction and beyond in Black America — Manning Marable
3. The Hate U Give — Angie Thomas
4. The Water dancer — Ta-Nehisi Coates
5. Stamped: Racism, Anti-racism and you. — X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds’s.
1. 13th (Netflix)
2. John Lewis: Good Trouble
3. Olympic Pride: American Prejudice
4. LA 92
5. The African Americans: Many rivers to cross.
This list is by no means exhaustive as there are lots of material available on various platforms and I encourage everyone to learn as much as they can about black history this month of February.