February is Black History Month.
Why is this?
Some would say it exists to appease a voting demographic.
They would be wrong.
Others say it ignores other ethnic groups who were treated unfairly when they came to US shores.
They too, would be wrong.
Others say it shouldn’t be just a month, but something that is naturally part of society, 24/7/365…
Currently, this isn’t the case, but in time… this is the hope.
As a white kid who grew up in North Dakota, eight miles from the Canadian border, I am not even remotely qualified to discuss certain perspectives on racism or speak to the life experience of my American brothers and sisters who are in an ethnic minority.
But I’ve been listening. And I’ve been learning. It took a lot of thinking before my brain began to wrap itself around what this month means…in my mind at least. The following is an attempt of putting what I have learned to paper.
Imagine losing your heritage.
Imagine being brought to another country against your will.
Imagine being separated from your life partner because he/she was bought by a different slave owner who lived hundreds of miles away from where you were going.
Imagine this happening with your children too.
Imagine your name being changed and any talking about or writing down of your past and heritage is a cause for brutal punishment.
Imagine having no hope.
Now imagine you are a descendant of such a nameless, hopeless, and history-less individual. Yes, you know your specific ancestor was a slave during a time when a part of this country condoned this despicable practice, but that’s it. You don’t know their mother or father. You don’t know how many children they had. And because of this, you don’t know who is out there that may be a blood relative under a completely different name than yours. They could be your neighbor. They could be your co-worker. They could be anyone.
I know that my great, great grandfather (a Scot) was imprisoned in England for being an Anabaptist. I know of his being put on a ship and sent to Canada. I know of his stopping in Ireland and finding a wife who embarked with him for the rest of their Journey. I know of their living in Ontario and raising a family. I know of my great grandfather leaving Ontario and homesteading in North Dakota. I know of my grandfather and my father. And when the submarine on which I was stationed hit port in Edinburgh, Scotland, the land on which the Royal Naval Dockyard Rosyth (where we tied up) was built, was, at one time, was Mowbray family land.
I know all this because my family has passed that knowledge down throughout the generations.
Imagine a tree whose roots go down to a point, but hit shallow rock and cannot penetrate any deeper. It doesn’t flourish the way that another tree with deeper roots might. Now imagine tracking your heritage and coming up against the shallow barrier of slavery and the dehumanization of a people who weren’t allowed to document their memories. Can you imagine what that feels like? I’ll bet it hurts in a way I will never know. Stuff gets lost. Identities are blurred, changed… erased. You can’t go to the African continent and stand confidently on land that you know was once walked on, loved and cared for by a direct ancestor. That’s a luxury in your book.
Black History Month is a way to strengthen the roots of all who have lost their heritage to the slave trade. Black History Month creates a forest of trees whose roots are linked together, stronger than a tree standing alone. Black History month is building a heritage of memories-not only for individuals who have lost part of theirs, but a foundation for future generations who can go back, three, four, five generations and be reminded and KNOW that they are a part of something bigger. Part of something deeper. Part of something that… matters.