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I Hate Black History Month
By Niya Palmer

Morgan Freeman was recently criticized for declaring Black History Month ridiculous. While I'm probably at risk for having my Black card revoked, I must admit that I'm so glad someone finally said it.

I hate Black History Month. Surprise! It's the one month out of the year when white people feel comfortable asking me all sorts of strange, inappropriate questions and treating me as if I'm the spokesperson for the black race.

Perhaps I would feel differently if I had come of age during the civil rights movement. You know, before black people had stuff and we had to march for everything: desegregation, voting rights, seats on a bus. I would have had a closet full of dashikis and worn my hair in an afro. Occasionally, I'd have raised my fist high in the air -- a symbol of solidarity, and chanted "Uhuru," which I think means freedom in some African language.

Instead I missed the whole civil rights thing by about 30 years and was the by-product of what everybody was fighting for: integration, equality and the right to be the only black kid in the classroom, unknowingly sent off to school to represent the entire black race for an entire month every year.

I didn't always hate February. My hatred and discomfort grew over time. I spent my early years in a small town in Massachusetts where February meant school activities that involved cutting out the shape of Martin Luther King's head and pasting it to a Popsicle stick. I hated the cardboard cut-outs of Ben Carson, George Washington Carver and Thurgood Marshall that were taped to the walls for exactly 28 days. I hated the laminated poster of Harriet Tubman looking like a ghost holding a lantern and leading the slaves to freedom via the Underground Railroad. I hate having to read aloud Sounder, The Bluest Eye, To Kill a Mockingbird or any other book that some invisible educational committee decided would be perfect because they contain the words: nigger, shack, freedom, and all have at least one character with the name Miss Bessy or Tom.

From time to time I awake in the middle of the night drenched with sweat -- flashbacks from countless Februarys spent in elementary and high school. In seventh grade we moved to Roswell, GA, a city about 30 minutes outside of Atlanta, and I shudder when I recall my English teacher deciding that we would watch taped episodes of I'll Fly Away. Afterwards she led a discussion about how times were so much simpler then, as the show portrayed an idyllic southern life during the fifties.

"Yeah, Mrs. Ellis, it was nice when blacks couldn't vote and the only thing we could hope for was an opportunity to clean up after white people." Someone even brought in a copy of Gone with the Wind and we watched it in pieces throughout the week. I have never in my life had the desire to see that film and was amazed that all the white girls knew the film word for word.

It was also impossible to have a discussion related to television during the month of February without some idiot mentioning how much they loved the show Good Times, and how realistic it was. Yeah, okay.

One year we even had an "African-American Celebration" in the school auditorium, which still manages to make me cringe when I think of it. There's nothing wrong with celebrating the achievements of African-Americans, but if it's not done with the precision of a surgeon it can easily become a minstrel show. I clearly remember not wanting to participate. My homeroom teacher made me attend, after telling me that I was unappreciative and who else did I think all of this was being done for?

The show featured an African dance troupe. They danced barefoot, and pounded on a steel drum. Now, I've been to a number of African countries, have even participated in drum circles, but this time it just didn't work. Whose bright idea was it to present live culture to ignorant high school students at my expense? I can imagine the committee meeting: "Let's have something authentic like really, really black people basket weaving and beating drums." "I'd like to see brown children with big tummies…" "Oooh and flies, flies everywhere, that's genuine."

Unfortunately, the year of the dance troupe was the same year that Shaka Zulu aired on television. You may not remember but it's something that I'll never forget, because I tend to divide my school years into two chapters -- before Shaka Zulu and after. A ten-hour epic touted as being about "an illegitimate prince who reclaims his birthright with brilliance and brutality," I watched the program which aired over the course of three nights. I kept thinking, "Damn it. I hope no one else is tuned into TBS." But of course they were tuned in, everyone was tuned in. The mini-series provided my classmates with a new arsenal of insults to hurl at me. Instead of calling me by name, I was referred to as "Spear Chucker." If it makes you cringe, imagine living it -- every single day.

I graduated from high school, leaving all of my nightmares behind. I'd decided to go to an historically black college due to repeated nightmares of several white girls in my dorm room telling me how some chick named Emily with high SAT scores didn't get in because I'd taken her place with the help of affirmative action. So I moved to Washington, DC to attend Howard University.

At Howard, every day was about Black History, but not in the cheesy, exploitive way that can happen in a small white town like Roswell, GA. Forget the posters, forget about the cardboard cut-outs; our buildings were named after influential blacks. I took classes studying Blacks in the Arts, Psychology of the Black Experience, and yes, there is some psychology to the experience. I learned that I wasn't unnaturally angry or paranoid or any of the things that I'd heard whispered about me -- and that it's okay to just be exhausted by it all. I had professors that I couldn't stand for any number of reasons, but not once did I imagine the contention stemmed from me having brown skin.

I met so many people that had stories mirroring mine and it's fascinating how tragedy and humiliation morph into hilarity when you're surrounded by others who've endured the same thing. I learned coping mechanisms for how to deal with racism, its effects, and other people's stereotyped ideas of who I am -- and I felt safe, comfortable and happy.

This year I'm boycotting Black History Month. I have too many bad memories to celebrate for an entire 28 days. When I have children I plan on sending a note with them to school on the first day of February. It will read: My children are not to participate in Black History Month festivities this year. They are not allowed to attend assemblies, write any reports, or to discuss the Shaka Zulu mini-series that will undoubtedly air every day this month. If there's a problem please call me.

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