Our Own Worst Enemy


If enough folk turn their backs on Black History Month because they’re sick of it being the “only” time anyone pays attention to anything African-American related, will it actually make people pay more attention to us the other 11 months of the year?

Answer: NO

The contributions African Americans continue to make to society-at-large are significant enough that they should be well-documented and covered in classrooms, on television, in books and anywhere else anytime.

There are still hurdles to climb, for recognition,  in every single one of those arenas.

Let’s not pummel the one vehicle that may actually bring new folks to everyone’s attention.

I don’t get knocking BHM-related activities. It’s not like anyone is mandated to do anything to actually recognize Black History Month. Take a poll, we’ll probably find most don’t.

BHM gets more recognition for its controversy and the dickering over whether it should exist at all than for its purpose: an attempt to remedy the significant lack of consistent coverage of African Americans, in a positive light, among mainstream outlets.

On a good day, we’re barely recognized outside of the flavor of the month. In the absence of Oprah, I guess it’s Tyler Perry. And that’s among the mainstream outlets that recognize us at all.

Even the publications designed specially for African American accolades seem to cover the same people over and over.

Check out how often Mary J. Blige has appeared on the cover of Essence magazine as if she’s literally the ONLY female Black singer in the world.

If someone can tell me how we cure our own outlets from ignoring all but the already-popular and over-covered – we can begin working on the mainstream, together.

Black History Month isn’t a cure for our lack of mainstream recognition, it’s a simple way to remind all of us that there are more than three of us who have actually made a contribution.

So let me get on to the real beef here – low-grade grumbling that our 28 Days Later campaign is during Black History Month.

The Brown Bookshelf launched its annual campaign during Black History Month because we assumed (and rightly so, I still believe) we’d get the most bang for our buck among our key audience – librarians, teachers and parents – as they were actively seeking good books about and by authors of color.

Even among the well-intentioned, the same Black authors or at least the same type of books get pulled out and displayed in bookstores and libraries in February. Enough already – there’s a lot more to choose from. Enter The Brown Bookshelf.

We chose the month where the rest of the world, out of obligation or actual interest, turns their attention to African Americans.

Some believe if you build it they will come – no matter where you build it. Well some of us believe that it’s better to build your lemonade stand on the main thoroughfare rather than hope someone will find you out in the boondocks.

Black History Month is a main thoroughfare, whether we like it or not. Utilizing it as a springboard for attention doesn’t mean you support ignoring the rest of the year. It means you’re smart enough to get in where you fit in.

Certainly, turning your back on it doesn’t help things much.

The joy it brings to provide authors and illustrators a little recognition outweighs most else. But it bugs me that said recognition could be taken negatively simply because it’s in February. Must we constantly shoot ourselves in the foot over things?

Race-based recognition is often put under the microscope as if it’s the problem and not a solution to fill obvious voids. It’s not a perfect solution. And I’ll be the first to back flip the day our books are equally as best selling and in equal contention for mainstream honors.

When that day comes, sites like BBS will have outlived their usefulness. We’re waiting as anxiously as everyone else.

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