Black History: Starting the Conversation

J.B. Forbes/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/TNS
Protesters in Kiener Plaza prepare to march in downtown St. Louis on Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2014, in the wake of the grand jury decision not to indict officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Ferguson, Mo., teen Michael Brown.

Jacob Jardel
Voices Editor
@JJardel_Writing

I love February.
It’s not because today’s my birthday. It’s not because of some weird fascination with all things obscure and different. It’s certainly not because of Valentine’s Day.
To be honest, a lot of it comes from the fact that February is Black History Month.
This piece was originally going to be about hip-hop music as a voice of the black community. Then it was going to be about systemic racism. Then it was going to be about the reasoning behind having Black History Month in the first place. Throughout that thinking process, though, I had one question continuously popping into my head:
Who am I to talk?
It’s something I’ve been thinking a long time about in the process of writing this piece. After all, I’m not black. I’m a white-passing minority from an island some people wouldn’t know about unless they already know someone from there or paid lots of attention in geography class.
Needless to say, I’m probably not the most qualified person to talk about issues surrounding racism and black people. I can’t think of a case of someone being malicious to me because of my race – let alone consistent and persistent happenings. And, as people tend to remind me when it comes to my love for hip-hop, I’m not black.
So that leaves me to think why I care so much about issues pertaining to black people.
The first answer that comes to mind is the fact that I have black friends. It’s an overplayed cliché, legitimizing something because you happen to be acquainted with someone of a particular background. But I care about my friends, and I care about their histories and issues. It’s simple as that, right?
But there’s a line you walk sometimes when trying to relate to someone of a different race. Veer too far to one end, and it’s insensitivity. Too far to the other end, and it’s borderline patronization.
The thing about walking this line is that the only people who see where you land are the people watching you walk.
It makes me think about why I latched onto black culture in the first place. Learning about Martin Luther King, Jr., inspired me to do right by people. Listening to 2Pac made me understand poetry in a new light. Living in California gave me both first- and second-hand looks into gang culture on the West Coast.
It all fascinated me when I was younger, and it still does. But there is one thing I admittedly have to keep reminding others and myself.
When it comes to black culture, gang life, MLK and hip-hop are not the only things included.
Looking at an entire race from this perspective, even appreciatively, limits just how much you can know about the people within it.
That’s part of the reason why we have Black History Month and why I love it so much. You see just how much goes into the concept of black history – more than you would see in many history classes.
As for why we need a Black History Month to do this, that’s another story for another piece. But the point still remains – there is a lot more to black history and the overarching black culture than you see on the news or learn in typical curriculum.
But that won’t suddenly make me an expert on black culture or, more importantly, the voice for it. So really, who am I to talk?
The ever-polarizing Macklemore brought up this exact topic in his song “White Privilege II.” He talks about his confusion at the appropriateness of his marching for Mike Brown. There’s a lot to dissect in the song, from its topics on white people exploiting black music to reactions to racist allegations.
The song’s final vocal interlude includes a sound bite from a man whose words about racism and what white people can do to fight it hit home.
“The best thing white people can do is talk to each other,” the man said, “having those very difficult, very painful conversations with your parents, with your family members.”
And he’s right. Those conversations are difficult, especially in this weird transitional time between the Civil Rights era of the 1960s and the current time, where our generation usually interacts with racism on the inherent, systemic level.
We’re still trying to shift that paradigm.
What makes matters even tougher are the heavily polarizing times among us. Adolescence and emerging adulthood may be times where beliefs can shake some of the polarization, but a look at Congress shows just how divisive we the people are and can be. We have so many divides within ourselves that discourse gets problematic.
So who am I to talk? I’m someone who, hopefully, can get a conversation started – maybe even lessen the divide a bit. I may not be black or an expert on the multifaceted nature of black culture. Even if I’m not white, I know I have some sort of privilege.
If I could use that privilege as a voice some people would actually listen to, perhaps even learn from, I’d like to hope I helped somehow.

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