Leyla McCalla: What Black History Month Makes Me Think Of
inUncategorizedon February 13, 2014
Bring me all of your dreams,
Bring me all your
That I may wrap them
In a blue cloud-cloth
Away from the too rough fingers
Of the world.
“The Dream Keeper” by Langston Hughes
I’m writing this article on the eve of the release of my first album, Vari-Colored Songs: A Tribute to Langston Hughes, on the third day of Black History Month and two days after Langston Hughes’ birthday. There is so much going through my mind that it’s hard to say exactly what I’m feeling.
Through the entire experience of celebrating black history and culture on Vari-Colored Songs, I’m on the fence about black history month. I appreciate it for the conversations it engages, for the brave and revolutionary historical figures that it acknowledges and for the chance to remember what black culture has meant to America. But I question whether we are truly addressing the collective issues that we need to urgently ask ourselves. Why are there disproportionately so many black men in our jails? What is happening with our children – what creates their identities and how does that affect the trajectory of their lives? There are so many other questions to be asked and answered…
I also feel that Black History Month can frame history as something that is in the past, when really the past and the present, while separate entities, are linked by many chains of events and people and places and things that could not exist without the other. “Black history” is larger than the scope of Black History Month. Black history is not just an American phenomenon to be celebrated every February. It comes from a complicated past, present and future.
I’m not writing to rail against Black History Month. In fact, it’s an incredible coincidence that Langston Hughes’ birthday falls on February 1st, the first day of Black History Month. As a writer who was so engaged with understanding black culture, pan-Africanism and race relations in the world, Hughes’ life and work exemplify the power of remembering what it means to remember. So this month and every month, I’ll be remembering Langston Hughes, Bessie Smith, Toussaint L’Ouverture, Marie Laveau and all of the people who made it possible for me to be who I am and do what I do.