Although there are some who argue Black (American) history is too vast, too intense, covering a period of over four centuries, to be capsulated within one month; February, like it has for several years past, is again being commemorated as Black History Month.
For America’s Black population, this year’s commemoration should be of special significance. It follows one of the most successful achievements of the population—responding emphatically to the call to utilize its voting power and make a defining change in national governmental leadership.
Having experienced vile atrocities since the era of slavery, when Black men and women were forcibly brought from Africa to toil on sugar and cotton plantations, through a failed reconstruction period; through a civil war sparked over a resistance to end slavery; through cruel, demeaning years of racial segregation; through a bitter, bloody fight for their civil rights and the right to vote; the Black population arrived at a place where attempts to marginalize their votes were soundly defeated.
But, as emphatic as this achievement is, it’s not one to celebrate without caution. The success of the Black vote in unseating an establishment bent on keeping the Black population in a solid, narrow box, is, unfortunately, building renewed national threat to the Black population from extremists.
It’s obvious large swaths of America’s population, despite the passage of time, will never accept that the broader modern American population is entitled to the same benefits as they have. There exists a fragile social compact that seeks to imply all Americans are born and can coexist equally. This social compact wants to make it acceptable for descendants of former Black slaves, former Black segregated farmers, domestic help, laborers, and support staff to attend integrated public schools, colleges, gain respectable, well-paying jobs, and rise to the top of the social hierarchy.
The remarkable evolution of Black history is that the Black population is nowhere willing to be held in a strong, narrow box. Strengthened by years of persistent migration of Black people from Africa and the Caribbean, America’s population continues to make significant gains, shaking off the stigma of the ghetto to secure its rightful place in America’s middle class, and moving on up.
There is increasing evidence of the influence of Black leadership in various aspects of American life, not only the typical fields of sports and entertainment. Today, Black people are leaders in business, medicine, science, education, politics, and are increasingly entrenched in the higher echelons of the federal government.
The commemoration of this Black History Month should be a time for the Black population to not only reflect on their achievements and accomplishments, but in ensuring there are methods solidly placed to continue the population’s upward mobility. Black America must be careful it doesn’t fall victim to any semblance of complacency. There’s still a far way to go, while always being aware of the clear and present threat existing to derail this progress.
Reggae Month is a fitting corollary
February is also the celebration of one of the strongest products of Jamaican musical culture—reggae. Indeed, Reggae Month is a fitting corollary to Black History Month. Reggae and reggae artists did not just play a pivotal role in providing an exciting variety of entertainment to the world. Rather, the messages conveyed in the music have often been a strong motivational force to bring Black people face-to-face with the reality of their struggles.
The icon of reggae, Robert (Bob) Nesta Marley, in his wide repertoire of reggae hits, encouraged Black men and women to move out of the “tenement yard,” rise up from sleeping on the stone-cold ground that was their bed and pillow, “get up and stand up” for their rights and justice, and free themselves from “mental slavery” as he sang Redemption Songs.
Jimmy Cliff cautioned Black people there are “many rivers to cross” on their journey home. But each day the good Lord gave the population the strength Luciano pleaded with him for, to overcome the obstacles in their way.
Throughout Black history, music—gospel, blues, rhythm and blues, and more recently reggae and its derivatives, have served as a balm to black pain; a type of aphrodisiac that has helped push black people from any complacency they may have felt living in the outdated solid, narrow box built by racism.
Despite a depressing and devastating global pandemic, there is real hope within the Black community, as it continues to make positive history. And, nothing has succeeded in silencing the reggae beat as it spreads from Jamaica around the globe.