Black History Month

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It’s 1st September 2016, and a usually lowkey pre-season game is drawing worldwide attention. While the American national anthem rings out around San Diego’s Qualcomm Stadium, the camera cuts to the San Francisco 49ers’ bench. There, in the thick of thousands of people standing with their hands on their hearts, are Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid. But the pair are not stood. Instead, they are kneeling in a peaceful protest against police brutality.

Before 2016, taking a knee had been associated with Martin Luther King Jr and the Civil Rights Movement. An iconic photograph captured King Jr. and other civil rights marchers kneeling in prayer in Selma, Alabama in 1965 after a group of protesters were arrested during a march to the Dallas County Alabama courthouse. Roughly 250 people were arrested during the demonstration, which was part of a push to get African Americans in Selma registered to vote.

Kaepernick’s and Reid’s protestations touched me differently from what I’d previously heard or read about black history – because I watched it live, and I lived through the aftermath and reaction to it all, unlike the Civil Rights Movement. That level of closeness changed things, and many events since then that we’ve all lived through has reaffirmed my commitment to trying to learn as much as I can about black history.

It’s for those reasons that I selected a picture of Kaepernick taking a knee when it came to selecting my UNMATCHED picture for the office. The image of him kneeling always resonates with me and is a symbol of unmatched bravery and integrity. Kaepernick represents the courage I wish to emulate, the dedication to educating on important issues of social justice and racism. Actioning his beliefs through various initiatives such as his donations to several social justice charities and the launching of “Know Your Rights” camp, which held free seminars to disadvantaged youths to teach them about empowerment.

Previously, Black History Month had been something I didn’t know much about. I’d engaged slightly but would never claim to have been a black history aficionado. And I still wouldn’t claim that now.

Instead, 2016 was more the beginning of my quest for knowledge into the other side of my history. Being mixed raced, I knew more about my heritage from a white perspective than I did a black one – school curriculums and history shows were often tilted that way. I never even studied black history in Black History Month at school. So, it was like going back to school all over again.

As I read books, watched interviews and documentaries on Muhammed Ali, Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Bill Russell, Doctor King and many others, I reflected on my life and how the world around me reacted to me and how I reacted to it. The world behaves differently for each of us based on several factors, and our ethnicity is one of those. Though I’m mixed raced with one white parent – I have suffered racist abuse. That told me that my blackness was something to be attacked. The world saw me exclusively as a black person and reacted to me accordingly. And I in turn behaved suitably back.

Black History Month has allowed me to contextualise a lot of my life and be wiser going forward from my late twenties, and now into my thirties. There will be arguments that such a month should not exist – and I respect those opinions even if I disagree. It is not for me to define what should and shouldn’t exist.

What I can say is since 2016, Black History Month has been a reminder for me to engage with that side of my heritage again, a reminder that the discovery is not finished, and the learning never ends. For example, while researching this blog, I discovered the works of Joseph V. Baker, thought to be the first black founder of a PR firm in 1934 and Moss Kendrix, who was at the forefront of many advertising campaigns for Coca-Cola in the 1950s, which saw sales skyrocket. I also stumbled upon Inez Y. Kaiser, who in 1957 opened her own PR firm, which smashed down two boundaries: the first PR firm opened by a black woman in the US, and the first business of any kind to be owned by a black woman in Kansas City.

I shall be reading more about all of them this October and beyond. Because that is the other thing Black History Month means to me – the learning doesn’t stop at the end of the month. Merely, I try to make it a jumping off point to dive deeper into my curiosities.

To learn more about Black History Month, take a look at some of these online resources:

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